Evening Poetry, September 9

You Learn By Living

by J. Patrick Lewis

for Eleanor Roosevelt

Who showed the world the world itself
     Was awkward, shy and plain.
A high-born leader in a long,
     Low decade full of pain.

Poor farmers, blacks, homeless, the least
     Advantaged hoped to see,
Magnificently unarrayed,
     Pure human dignity.

A lady first, the great first lady
     Looked fear in the face,
And said, There is no room for fear
     When courage take its place.

You can find this poem in Vherses: A Celebration of Outstanding Women.

Braiding Sweetgrass: A Book For All of Us

How is your September going so far? I am feeling that in-between sense of the weather saying “Summer is still here!” yet the fall schedule has returned or is about to begin.

I’m enrolled in three Ayurveda classes at Yoga Veda Institute this term: Clinical Assessment, Chikitsa (Therapy),and Herbology II. Plus a few yoga teacher training classes. They started last week, but then here in the U.S. we had the Labor Day holiday, so this week there are no classes. And it’s hot here right now–sunny and in the 80s F. Since my daughter hasn’t started back to school yet, I want to go outside, lay in the hammock with a cool drink and a stack of books.

Which brings me to a reading recommendation:

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer might be my top pick for nonfiction this year. Although it was written back in 2013, this title didn’t find me until this year. Knowing that Elizabeth Gilbert was inspired to write The Signature of All Things after reading Kimmerer’s earlier book, Gathering Moss, made me want to read Braiding Sweetgrass, which Gilbert also recommends. It’s an exquisitely written blend of personal narrative, myth, legend, history, indigenous wisdom, and science.

I thought I would like it, but more in “should read” sort of way. I LOVED and ENJOYED every page. Whether she shares about pond life, swamps, mountains, moss, salamanders, or maple trees, Kimmerer’s rich storytelling sparkled and her connection to and love of plants and the planet are riveting.

She describes experiences of gently introducing her ecology students to the natural world. She relates how raising her daughters in Upstate New York makes her think of how the earth is a good mother. We learn about endangered Black Ash tree and the symbiotic relationship between the trees and indigenous basketweavers. She describes walking through wet, mossy cedar forests in the West, feeling the land loving us back in the garden harvest, and planting sweetgrass in places it used to grow.

What I appreciated was how she shared the earth-honoring values of the indigenous peoples who lived on Turtle Island long before white people did. The beauty of ceremony and ritual, the thoughtfulness of the traditions, and the deep respect and care for all of nature is a way of life we need to return to. So do yourself and nature a gigantic favor and please read Braiding Sweetgrass, unless you have already!

I’ll end with a favorite quote from the chapter “Asters and Goldenrod”:

“That September pairing of purple and gold is lived reciprocity; its wisdom is that the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other. Science and art–matter and spirit, indigenous knowledge and Western science–can they be goldenrod and asters for each other? When I am in their presence, their beauty asks me for reciprocity, to be the complementary color, to make something beautiful in response.”

(p.47, Braiding Sweetgrass)

I hope you can read this book, and if you already have, please share about it in comments!

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Evening Poetry, September 8

A Brave and Startling Truth

by Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

You can find this poem in Complete Poems.

Evening Poetry, September 2

Famous

by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.

You can find this poem in Words Under The Words: Selected Poems.

Evening Poetry, September 1

Happiness

by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

You can find this poem in Collected Poems.

Evening Poetry, August 31

In Late August

by Peter Campion

In a culvert by the airport
under crumbling slag
wine colored water seeps
to this pool the two does
drink from: each sipping as
the other keeps look out.
The skyline is a blur
of  barcode and microchip.
Even at home we hold
the narrowest purchase.
No arcs of tracer fire.
No caravans of fleeing
families. Only this
suspicion ripples
through our circles of lamp glow
(as you sweep the faint sweat
from your forehead and flip
another page in your novel)
this sense that all we own
is the invisible
web of our words and touches
silence and fabulation
all make believe and real
as the two does out
scavenging through rose hips
and shattered drywall:
their presence in the space
around them liveliest
just before they vanish.

This poem was featured in November 2007 edition of Poetry Magazine.

Evening Poetry, August 30

[‘Often rebuked, yet always back returning’]

by Emily Brontë

Often rebuked, yet always back returning
    To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
    For idle dreams of things which cannot be:

To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
    Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
    Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
    And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
    The clouded forms of long-past history.

I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
    It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the gray flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
    Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
    More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
    Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

You can find this in The Complete Poems.

Evening Poetry, August 29

Messenger

by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

You can find this in Thirst.

Evening Poetry, August 28

Twilight: After Haying

by Jane Kenyon

Yes, long shadows go out

from the bales; and yes, the soul

must part from the body:

what else could it do?

The men sprawl near the baler,

too tired to leave the field.

They talk and smoke,

and the tips of their cigarettes

blaze like small roses

in the night air. (It arrived

and settled among them

before they were aware.)

The moon comes

to count the bales,

and the dispossessed–

Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will

–sings from the dusty stubble.

These things happen. . .the soul’s bliss

and suffering are bound together

like the grasses. . .

The last, sweet exhalations

of timothy and vetch

go out with the song of the bird;

the ravaged field

grows wet with dew.

You can find this in Collected Poems.

Evening Poetry, August 27

Love (III)

George Herbert 1593-1633

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
            Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
            From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
            If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
            Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
            I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
            “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
            Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
            “My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
            So I did sit and eat.

You can find this in George Herbert and The Seventeenth-Century Religious Poets.