Evening Poetry, January 3

Starlings in Winter

by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

You can find this in Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays.

Evening Poetry, December 14

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[little tree]

by e.e. cummings

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look          the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

You can find this poem in e. e. cummings: Complete Poems, 1904-1962.

Evening Poetry, December 11

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The Magic Apple Tree, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

by Malcolm Guite

Someday make a journey through the rain

Through sodden streets in darkening December

A journey to the magic apple tree.

And journey also, darkling, through your past

Journey through your seed time and your summer

And through the fall of every fruiting time.

Journey through the pictures packed like loam,

The rooting places of your growing soul,

The subsoil of your oldest memory.

Walk through the outer darkness of the world

Towards a buried memory of light

Whose faded trace no photograph records.

You glimpsed it once within the garden wall,

The image of an ancient apple tree,

The fall of light through branches and the fling

And curve of colour on the golden fruit…

All buried in the rubble of your fall.

Walk through the present darkness till you come

To the stone steps, the lions, the façade,

The white Museum with its plate-glass doors.

Through these you pass and up a flight of stairs,

To find the case and lift the dull brown cover

To see, at first, your image in the glass.

You see yourself, and through yourself the tree,

And through the tree at last, the buried light.

Boughs form an arch, the painting draws you in

Under its framing fringe of rich green leaves,

Beyond the music of the shepherdess,

Down through the dark towards the grey church spire

In to its heart : the arching apple boughs…

The sky is dark, intense, a stormy grey,

But just beneath the darkness all is gold:

The slope of hills, the fields of barleycorn.

The loaded branches of the apple tree,

Glow red and ripe and gold and bow themselves

To bless the fruitful earth from whence they spring.

These colours seem to fall from Eden’s light,

The air they shine through breathes a change in them,

Breaking their sheen into a certain shade

Particular and unrepeatable.

Some golden essence seems to concentrate

From light to air, from pigment into paint

In increments of incarnation down

to burn within these apples and this bough,

Which here and now at last, you recognise.

This is your own, your ancient apple tree

And here the light you buried for so long

Leaps up in you to life and resurrection.

You can find this poem in The Singing Bowl.

Evening Poetry, December 4

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4. Hymn

by Eavan Boland

Four a.m.
December.
A lamb would perish
out there.

The cutlery glitter
of that sky
has nothing in it
I want to follow.

Here is the star
of my nativity;
the nursery lamp
in that suburb window,

behind which
is boiled glass, a bottle,
and a baby all
hisses like a kettle.

The light goes out.
The blackbird
takes up his part.
I wake by habit.
I have it off by heart:

these candles,
and the altar
and the psaltery of dawn.

And in the dark
as we slept
the world
was made flesh.

You can find this poem in Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990.

Evening Poetry, November 25

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Woman in Kitchen

by Eavan Boland

Breakfast over, islanded by noise,

she watches the machines go fast and slow.

She stands among them as they shake the house.

They move. Their destination is specific.

She has nowhere definite to go:

she might be a pedestrian in traffic.

White surfaces retract. White

sideboards light the white of walls.

Cups wink white in their saucers.

The light of day bleaches as it falls

on cups and sideboards. She could use the room

to tap with if she lost her sight.

Machines jigsaw everything she knows.

And she is everywhere among their furor:

the tropic of the dryer tumbling clothes.

The round lunar window of the washer.

The kettle in the toaster is a kingfisher

swooping for trout above the river’s mirror.

The wash done, the kettle boiled, the sheets

spun and clean, the dryer stops dead.

The silence is a death. It starts to bury

the room in white spaces. She turns to spread

a cloth on the board and irons sheets

in a room white and quiet as a mortuary.

You can find this poem in Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990.

Evening Poetry, November 24

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For Presence

by John O’Donohue

Awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.

Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.

Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.

Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to
follow its path.

Let the flame of anger free you of all falsity.

May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.

May anxiety never linger about you.

May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of
soul.

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek
no attention.

Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven
around the heart of wonder.

You can find this poem in To Bless the Space Between Us.

Evening Poetry, November 23

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Start Close In

by David Whyte

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

You can find this in River Flow: New and Selected Poems.

Evening Poetry, November 22

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Perhaps The World Ends Here

by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

You can find this poem in The Woman Who Fell From the Sky.

Evening Poetry, November 20

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Domestic Interior

by Eavan Boland

for Kevin

The woman is as round
As the new ring
Ambering her finger.
The mirror weds her.
She has long since been bedded.

There is a glow
About it all.
A quiet search for attention
Like the unexpected shine
Of a despised utensil.

The old oils,
The varnishes,
The cracked light,
The worm of permanence –
All of them supplied by Van Eyck

By whose edict she will stay
Burnished, fertile,
On her wedding day,
Interred in her joy.
Love, turn:

The convex of your eye
That is so loving, bright
And constant yet shows
Only this woman in her varnishes
Who won’t improve in the light.

But there’s a way of life
That is its own witness:
Put the kettle on, shut the blind.
Home is a sleeping child,
An open mind

And our effects,
Shrugged and settled
In the sort of light
Jugs and kettles
Grow important by.

You can find this poem in Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990.

Evening Poetry, November 19

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Looking Out From Clare, for John O’Donohue

by David Whyte

There's a great spring in you
all bud and blossom
and March laughter
I've always loved.

Your face framed
against the bay
and the whisper
of some arriving joke
playing at the mouth,
your lightning raid
on the eternal
melting the serious line
to absurdity.

I look round and see
the last days of winter
broken away
for all those
listening or watching,
all come to life now
with the first
pale sun on their face
for many a month,
remembering how to laugh.

But most of all I love
the heft and weight
and swing of that sea
behind it all, some other tide
racing toward the shore,
or receding to the calmness
where no light or laughter
lives for long.

The way you surface
from those atmospheres
again and again,
your emergence seems to make
you a lover of horizons
but your visitation
of darkness shows.

Then away from you
I can see you only alone
on the strand
walking to the sea
on the north shore of Clare
toward the end
of an unendurable winter
as if taking your first swim
of the year.

The March scald 
of cold ocean
even in May about to tighten
and bud you into spring.
You look across
the mountains in Connemara
framing, only for now,
your horizon.
You look and look, and look
beyond all looking.

You can find this in Everything is Waiting for You.