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 18

Here

by Jane Kenyon

You always belonged here.

You were theirs, certain as a rock.

I’m the one who worries

if I fit in with the furniture

and the landscape.

But I “follow too much

the devices and desires of my own heart.”

Already the curves in the road

are familiar to me, and the mountain

in all kinds of light,

treating all people the same.

And when I come over the hill,

I see the house, with its generous

and firm proportions, smoke

rising gaily from the chimney.

I feel my life start up again,

like a cutting when it grows

the first pale and tentative

root hair in a glass of water.

You can find this poem in Collected Poems.

Evening Poetry, August 15

Let Evening Come

by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving   
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing   
as a woman takes up her needles   
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned   
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.   
Let the wind die down. Let the shed   
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop   
in the oats, to air in the lung   
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t   
be afraid. God does not leave us   
comfortless, so let evening come.

You can find this poem in Collected Poems.

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Evening Poetry, August 10

The Visit

by Jane Kenyon

The talkative guest has gone,

and we sit in the yard

saying nothing. The slender moon

comes over the peak of the barn.

The air is damp, and dense

with the scent of honeysuckle….

The last clever story has been told

and answered with laughter.

With my sleeping self I met

my obligations, but now I am aware

of the silence, and your affection,

and the delicate sadness of dusk.

You can find this poem in The Boat of Quiet Hours.

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Evening Poetry, December 8

Mosaic of the Nativity

by Jane Kenyon

Serbia, Winter 1993

On the domed ceiling God

is thinking:

I made them my joy,

and everything else I created

I made to bless them.

But see what they do!

I know their hearts

and arguments:

“We’re descended from

Cain. Evil is nothing new,

so what does it matter now

if we shell the infirmary,

and the well where the fearful

and rash alike must

come for water?”

God thinks Mary into being.

Suspended at the apogee

of the golden dome,

she curls in a brown pod,

and inside her the mind

of Christ, cloaked in blood,

lodges and begins to grow.

You can find this poem in Otherwise: New & Selected Poems.

Evening Poetry, November 11

What Came To Me

by Jane Kenyon

I took the last

dusty piece of china

out of the barrel.

It was your gravy boat,

with a hard, brown

drop of gravy still

on the porcelain lip.

I grieved for you then

as I never had before.

You can find this poem in The Boat of Quiet Hours.

Evening Poetry, October 3

Happy National Poetry Day, readers! I know it’s only a UK thing, but since the US doesn’t have one yet (what’s up with that?), I’m celebrating anyway.

Briefly It Enters, Briefly It Speaks

by Jane Kenyon

I am the blossom pressed in a book,

found again after two hundred years….

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….

When the young girl who starves

sits down to a table

she will sit beside me….

I am food on the prisoner’s plate….

I am water rushing to the well-head,

filling the pitcher until it spills….

I am the patient gardener

of the dry and weedy garden….

I am the stone step,

the latch, and the working hinge….

I am the heart contracted by joy…

the longest hair, white

before the rest….

I am there in the basket of fruit

presented to the widow….

I am the musk rose opening

unattended, the fern on the boggy summit….

I am the one whose love

overcomes you, already with you

when you think to call my name.

You can find this poem in The Boat of Quiet Hours.

Evening Poetry, October 1

The Painters

by Jane Kenyon

A hot dry day in early fall…

The men have cut the vines

from the shutters, and scraped

the clapboards clean, and now

their heads appear all day

in all the windows…

their arms or shirtless torsos,

or a rainbow-speckled rag

swinging from a belt.

They work in earnest–

these are the last warm days.

Flies bump and buzz

between the screens and panes,

torpid from last night’s frost:

the brittle months advance…

ruts frozen in the icy drive,

and the deeply black and soundless

nights. But now the painters

lean out from their ladders, squint

against the light, and lay on

the thick white paint.

From the lawn their radio predicts rain,

then cold Canadian air….

One of them works way up

on the dormer peak,

where a few wasps levitate

near the vestige of a nest.

You can find this poem in The Boat of Quiet Hours by Jane Kenyon.

A hot dry day in early fall….

Evening Poetry, September 20

Three Songs at the End of Summer

By Jane Kenyon

A second crop of hay lies cut   
and turned. Five gleaming crows   
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,   
and like midwives and undertakers   
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,   
parting before me like the Red Sea.   
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned   
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.   
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone   
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,   
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.   
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod   
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;   
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks   
over me. The days are bright   
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today   
for an hour, with my whole   
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,   
and a crow, hectoring from its nest   
high in the hemlock, a nest as big   
as a laundry basket …
                                    In my childhood   
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,   
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off   
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,   
and operations with numbers I did not   
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled   
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien   
I stood at the side of the road.   
It was the only life I had.

You can find this in Collected Poems.

Evening Poetry, August 29

Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer

by Jane Kenyon

We turned into the drive,

and gravel flew up from the tires

like sparks from a fire. So much

to be done–the unpacking, the mail

and papers…the grass needed mowing….

We climbed stiffly out of the car.

The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,

the limbs so heavy with fruit

they nearly touched the ground.

We went out to the meadow; our steps

made black holes in the grass;

and we each took a pear,

and ate, and were grateful.

This poem can be found in Otherwise by Jane Kenyon.