Evening Poetry, February 12

Aimless Love

by Billy Collins


This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

You can find this poem in Nine Horses.

Evening Poetry, February 5

Just Beyond Yourself

by David Whyte

Just beyond

yourself.

It’s where

you need

to be.

Half a step

into

self-forgetting

and the rest

restored

by what

you’ll meet.

There is a road

always beckoning.

When you see

the two sides

of it

closing together

at that far horizon

and deep in

the foundations

of your own

heart

at exactly

the same

time,

that’s how

you know

it’s the road

you

have

to follow.

That’s how

you know

it’s where

you

have

to go.

That’s how

you know

you have

to go.

That’s

how you know.

Just beyond

yourself,

it’s

where you

need to be.

You can find this poem in The Bell and The Blackbird.

Evening Poetry, February 4

II.

by Emily Dickinson

I have no life but this,

To lead it here;

Nor any death, but lest

Dispelled from there;

Nor tie to earths to come

Nor action new,

Except through this extent,

The realm of you.

You can find this in Hope is the Thing With Feathers.

Evening Poetry, February 1

Winter Trees

by Paul Zimmer

for Jan Susina

To watch snow sift into woods is to

Feel yourself growing gently toward death,

Yet it is trees that teach us how to live.

In some places a person can exist

For many years without seeing a tree:

That must be the way of anger and despair.

Better to have the constant example

Of their patience and perfection,

To witness the blossoming and decay,

Watch snow resolve itself through branches,

Gathering softly at the nodes and shag.

Better to somehow join them and become

Part of the last stand in the world.

You can find this poem in Poems About Trees.

Evening Poetry, January 31

It’s the last day of January and here is a happy little poem about love and joy in the midst of winter. (It is in the public domain.)

A Winter Blue Jay

by Sara Teasdale

Crisply the bright snow whispered,
Crunching beneath our feet;
Behind us as we walked along the parkway,
Our shadows danced,
Fantastic shapes in vivid blue.
Across the lake the skaters
Flew to and fro,
With sharp turns weaving
A frail invisible net.
In ecstasy the earth
Drank the silver sunlight;
In ecstasy the skaters
Drank the wine of speed;
In ecstasy we laughed
Drinking the wine of love.
Had not the music of our joy
Sounded its highest note?
But no,
For suddenly, with lifted eyes you said,
“Oh look!”
There, on the black bough of a snow flecked maple,
Fearless and gay as our love,
A bluejay cocked his crest!
Oh who can tell the range of joy
Or set the bounds of beauty?

Evening Poetry, January 28

When

by Mary Oliver

When it’s over, it’s over, and we don’t know

any of us, what happens then.

So I try not to miss anything.

I think, in my whole life, I have never missed

the full moon

or the slipper of its coming back.

Or, a kiss.

Well, yes, especially a kiss.

You can find this poem in Swan.

Evening Poetry, January 27

The Bright Field

by R.S. Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

You can find this poem in Collected Poems 1945-1990.

Evening Poetry, January 26

“Sabbaths-1979, IV”

by Wendell Berry

The bell calls in the town
Where forebears cleared the shaded land
And brought high daylight down
To shine on field and trodden road.
I hear, but understand
Contrarily, and walk into the woods.
I leave labor and load,
Take up a different story.
I keep an inventory
Of wonders and of uncommercial goods.

I climb up through the field
That my long labor has kept clear.
Projects, plans unfulfilled
Waylay and snatch at me like briars,
For there is no rest here
Where ceaseless effort seems to be required,
Yet fails, and spirit tires
With flesh, because failure
And weariness are sure
In all that mortal wishing has inspired.

I go in pilgrimage
Across an old fenced boundary
To wildness without age
Where, in their long dominion,
The trees have been left free.
They call the soil here “Eden”; slants and steeps
Hard to stand straight upon
Even without a burden.
No more a perfect garden,
There’s an immortal memory that it keeps.

I leave work’s daily rule
And come here to this restful place
Where music stirs the pool
And from high stations of the air
Fall notes of wordless grace,
Strewn remnants of the primal Sabbath’s hymn.
And I remember here
A tale of evil twined
With good, serpent and vine
And innocence of evil’s stratagem.

I let that go a while,
For it is hopeless to correct
By generations’ toil,
And I let go my hopes and plans
That no toil can perfect.
There is no vision here but what is seen:
White bloom nothing explains.

But a mute blessedness
Exceeding all distress,
The fresh light stained a hundred shades of green.

Uproar of wheel and fire
That has contained us like a cell
Opens and lets us hear
A stillness longer than all time
Where leaf and song fulfill
The passing light, pass with the light, return,
Renewed, as in rhyme.
This is no human vision
Subject to our revision;
God’s eye holds every leaf as light is worn.

Ruin is in place here:
The dead leaves rotting on the ground,
The live leaves in the air
Are gathered in a single dance
That turns them round and round.
The fox cub trots his almost pathless path
As silent as his absence.
These passings resurrect
A joy without defect,
The life that steps and sings in ways of death.

You can find this poem in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.

What I'm Reading for Spiritual Growth (Savoring Sunday)

Sunday might always be a bittersweet day for me. Christians have long called it the Sabbath: a day to attend church and rest. And until a few years ago, I went along with this. It was the way I was raised, and as a person in a ministry family, it certainly didn’t feel like a Sabbath. It was a religious work day, which left me feeling exhausted, with a headache, and with no rest at all before starting the whole week over again.

When I went through my midlife crisis several years ago, (yes, I said it!) I decided I had to stop doing some of the things I’d been doing for so long out of duty, guilt and because I wanted to please others. And church was one of those things. Jung talked about the two halves of life and I completely identified with this:

One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie.

So do I miss church? Not really, no. And that makes me sad. I feel guilt associated with not missing it, as well as a wistfulness that I’m not one of the people who feel happy and a part of everything at church. It might be my introverted-ness and detest of crowds and doing things as a group. It might be my rebellious streak that doesn’t want to “turn to your neighbor and tell them…” after the worship service is over. It might be that there really are some people better suited to organized religion and I’m not one of them.

But I still believe. I still search. I still pray. I still am awed by creation and by my little place in it. But, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I feel like I’ve expanded my views and I’m not afraid of other people’s ideas about spirituality, or the possibility that they might influence me.

Perhaps I need their influence! In my yoga teacher training class this past Tuesday, our teacher was talking about the size of our galaxy, how many stars are estimated to be there, how fast light moves, etc, and how small and insignificant, yet important each of us is. And I thought of the passage in Psalm 8 (verses 3-5, NLT)

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
    and crowned them with glory and honor.

It was marvelous to connect a Biblical passage to a yoga teaching! I’ve been surprised to find I can be reading a book on meditation from a Buddhist teacher, and it doesn’t in any way contradict or put down the religion I grew up in. Instead, there is respect shown and I continue to discover many correlations between various religions and belief systems. If anything, I’ve been humbled in what I thought I knew, in how people of one belief might treat someone from another belief. (Christians have a lot to answer for!)

In this period of my life, I turn to books, as I always have done, to help tether me to what I believe, as well as to challenge what I think I believe. I’ve been reading much wider than I did as a younger person, and it’s been very healing as I find the inner resistance, the prejudices, the tendency to be on my guard and then learn to listen anyway.

I have fewer answers than I once thought I had. The pride of earlier years, the cut and dried way of looking at things, has given way to viewing my neighbor through a gentler, more compassionate lens.

So many, myself included, have been wounded by the church’s (or other religion’s) intolerance, rigidity, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness. We may not go back to the way things were, yet we still believe.

For people like myself, or for anyone who is spiritually aware and a seeker, here are a few books you might benefit from.

A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield was a book recommended to our Spiritual Health & Healing class from Yoga Veda Institute in the fall. I love Jack’s kind, clear writing style, and how he weaves practicality into each spiritual practice. I’m not finished with this one yet, but I’ve gotten something from each chapter.

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’ Donohue. Many of you are familiar with the late John O’ Donohue and I often share his poetry here on the blog. Everything this man wrote is worth taking the time to read, and this book is no exception! He infuses his poetic, imaginative, nature- inspired way of seeing into everything he writes, combining it with a rich, philosophical intelligence and a spiritual depth that I haven’t read elsewhere. And beauty is everywhere.

Thirst by Mary Oliver is one of her many collections with a spiritual bent. Her poetry is clear, direct, true, and always asking and seeking out the Creator. If I’m particularly troubled in spirit, her poetry helps me find the heart words my head cannot. You know what I mean, right?

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God is a collection I discovered a few years ago, and read continuously. His unique, fluid, broad perspective on life, on the Divine gives me courage whenever I feel my faith flounder, whenever I think I’ve gone too far away, I remind myself of the fact that I’m circling around, that I’ll return.

I could go on, but these are four to start with and you can be sure I’ll add to this list over time. I’d love to know if you’re reading a book on spirituality or philosophy, or perhaps a self-help or personal growth book. Please share in the comments below and have a great week!

Evening Poetry, January 25

Clearing

by Martha Postlewaite

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.

I heard this poem read aloud by Tara Brach during one of her Radical Compassion Challenge meditations this past week . I’m uncertain of the publication date of this poem, or if it’s in a book anywhere, but here is Martha’s book Addiction & Recovery: A Spiritual Pilgrimage that is on my TBR list.