Wednesday, August 20, 2014

messenger of wonder


by Mark Strand

When you see them
tell them I am still here,
that I stand on one leg while the other one dreams,
that this is the only way,

that the lies I tell them are different
from the lies I tell myself,
that by being both here and beyond
I am becoming a horizon,

that as the sun rises and sets I know my place,
that breath is what saves me,
that even the forced syllables of decline are breath,
that if the body is a coffin it is also a closet of breath,

that breath is a mirror clouded by words,
that breath is all that survives the cry for help
as it enters the stranger's ear
and stays long after the world is gone,

that breath is the beginning again, that from it
all resistance falls away, as meaning falls
away from life, or darkness fall from light,
that breath is what I give them when I send my love

Every so often on this blog, I come back to the breath. It's been a rough summer for some people I'm close to - beyond the usual. What they're battling makes my small conundrums seem small, indeed. And as usual, the backdrop to whatever is happening personally, is the daily news, which I know is overwhelming, heart-tightening, especially lately.

For myself, I have found it useful to think about this kind of breathing described by Pema Chodron:

The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering —ours and that which is all around us— everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seemto be. We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person we know to be hurting and who we wish to help.

You can read more about this practice here.

What I'm trying to do. Breathe in the pain and suffering of those I know who are in need. And breathe out flowers and light and beautiful colours.

Does this change the world? I don't know. I only know it changes me. 

School Prayer 

by Diane Ackerman

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

From I Praise My Destroyer (Vintage Books, 2000)

Perhaps it means something to offer ourselves up, as messengers of wonder, architects of peace.

In the name of the flowers and the morning light.
In the name of the cherries, ripe and red.
In the name of the innumerable shades of green and the cool nights at the end of summer.
In the name of those you love and who love you.
In the name of those who are in pain and who have huge obstacles to overcome.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

waiting without hunger


by Esther Morgan

You’ve been living for this for weeks
without knowing it:

the moment the house empties like a city in August
so completely
it forgets you exist.

Light withdraws slowly
is almost gone before you notice.

In the stillness, everything becomes itself:
the circle of white plates on the kitchen table
the serious chairs that attend them

even the roses on the papered walls
seem to open a little wider.

It looks simple: the glass vase holding
whatever is offered—
cut flowers, or the thought of them—

simple, though not easy
this waiting without hunger in the near dark
for what you may be about to receive.

- via A Poet Reflects from the book: Grace

This need to once again refine my practice. To wait without this grace, then?

Rumi says,

"Work. Keep digging your well.
Don't think about getting off from work. 
Water is there somewhere.

Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door. 

Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who's there."

"The constant happiness is curiosity."

- Alice Munro

It's good, I think, to stop and ask yourself what it is you believe, from time to time. What do you want from your days? What do you need from them? What rituals are you able to sustain? What do you love?

I need light, the constant happiness of curiosity. And I want the stillness, where everything becomes itself. I want poetry, the poetry of dailiness and ritual. I want an inner quiet. I want to be awake with noticing and I want to be alive to beauty.

I believe in waiting without hunger, and yes, how difficult that truly is.

Monday, August 18, 2014

It's hard to explain


by Kay Ryan

Stardust is
the hardest thing
to hold out for.
You must
make of yourself
a perfect place —
something still
upon which
something settles —
something like
sugar grains on
something like
metal, but with
none of the chill.
It’s hard to explain.

Listening to Max Richter's Recompositions of Vivaldi this past week. Not for the Vivaldi purists, apparently, if you read the comments on YouTube. But I adore them. Below is Summer:

Last week, as many of you know, I was working on the edits for my manuscript, my novel. Seems even just a little bit more real. And 2015 seems closer and closer - the publication will likely be in the fall. So, a little more than a year from now. I fell in love with my characters all over again last week, and can't wait to share them in book form. 

I've been feeling a bit of angst regarding my entire internet presence, including Calm Things. Actually, I've been feeling a lot of angst regarding so many things, truth be told. Looking for a way forward, re-evaluating, and yet not coming up with much in the way of change. And also the thought that maybe it's not so much change that I need but a kind of reaffirmation.

So how about this.

"It is Beauty that magnetizes the contemplative, and it is the duty of the contemplative to give beauty away so that the rest of the world may, in the midst of squalor, ugliness, and pain, remember that beauty is possible."

- Joan Chittister


"If we go down into ourselves, we find that we possess exactly what we desire."

- Simone Weil

How I love this poem by Wendell Berry. And though I wait patiently enough for stardust, hold out for it, in one way, it's also true that I wouldn't want anyone to imagine me exactly calm. I'm anything but.

A Warning to My Readers

by Wendell Berry

Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honour the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man as crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fists and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

the bones of your heart

Visible World

by Richard Siken

Sunlight pouring across your skin, your shadow
                                                  flat on the wall.
The dawn was breaking the bones of your heart like twigs.

You had not expected this,
                 the bedroom gone white, the astronomical light
                                               pummeling you in a stream of fists.
You raised your hand to your face as if

             to hide it, the pink fingers gone gold as the light
streamed straight to the bone,
   as if you were the small room closed in glass
                                     with every speck of dust illuminated.

    The light is no mystery,
the mystery is that there is something to keep the light
                                                      from passing through.

I wish I had a photograph of the light in my bedroom coming through the curtains, just as I was waking up earlier this morning.

Instead, one last sip of matcha tea for the week, some panda pocky.

I'll be taking a blog-break next week. I'm off from work on holidays / stay-cation, and, good news, the edits for my 'purse and handbag' novel have arrived. Fabulous timing, I couldn't be more thrilled. Of course, it's going to be a pretty intense week. I'm not naive enough to think I'll even come close to finishing them, but I'm going to see how far I get. Most importantly, I'll have the week to re-immerse myself in the story. First step, come up with a new title. My working title has been "I.s." which are the initials of the main character, Ingrid-Simone. So, I think this will become one of the section headings, instead, and something more catchy will go in place. "What to Carry" was one of the editor's suggestions, as was "Tiny Purses." Thoughts? :)  I'm also considering, "Ingrid-Simone." Though, I sort of want to indicate the purse theme in the title.....

Well, the title will likely be the most difficult bit in all of this. It does have to be perfect.

See you back here on the 18th of August.

In the meantime, may you see the poetry in your days and in those you encounter.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

it isn't that easy

"I used to think the power of words was inexhaustible,
That how we said the world
          was how it was, and how it would be.
I used to imagine that word-sway and word-thunder
Would silence the Silence and all that,
That worlds were the Word,
That language could lead us inexplicably to grace,
As though it were geographical.
I used to think these things when I was young.
            I still do."

- Charles Wright


I've been thinking about the poems of Charles Wright a lot lately. I think it's safe to say I've read almost everything he's written. Nearly all. I'd be reading his poetry even if he hadn't been appointed the U.S. poet laureate. 

From a piece on the PBS Newshour:

“Most of my poems start with me looking out the window or sitting in the backyard as dusk comes down, and what that sort of translates into — into my thinking at the moment,” Wright said. “We have more to say when we’re younger. We have better things to say when we’re older, not necessarily more.”

And also:

“I’m very attuned to what I look at, and landscape is something that’s quite ravishing to me and seductive. And I’m always looking at and thinking about how the exterior landscape reflects the interior and vice versa. And almost all my poems begin with something I’ve seen, something observed as opposed to some idea I have for a poem.” He went on to say, “I’m a closet painter, but I can’t paint, and so I’m stuck with what I have, which is language.”

And this:

“Well I would actually prefer all my work to be anonymous and to be discovered in a monastery about 500 years from now.”

Well, that sounds about right. 

I would have to say that Charles Wright has been one of my influences. He fits right in with Helene Cixous, Clarice Lispector, Kristjana Gunnars, Tim Lilburn, Rumi Adam Zagajewski and others. His words aren't always soothing, but his tone is. The persistence of thought. "Doggedly sur le motif," which must be his words on Cezanne but I can't find them at present.

How many years have I been sitting in my own backyard, reading Charles Wright's musings often from his backyard? And also, about art. Quite honestly, I think for me he's one of the few poets who gets the whole 'writing about art' thing right. Never pretentious, he's just feeling his way into the work. And besides:

"The poem is a self-portrait
                                             always, no matter what mask
You take off and put back on."

"I have tried to devote myself to simplicity," he says in his latest book, Caribou Poems. "But it isn't that easy."

And it isn't that easy, but let's go on trying anyway.

When you take down all the Charles Wright books you happen to own off your shelf, and you start flipping through them some early morning, late summer, you might start to wish you'd been a different writer, a different poet yourself. A better one. More consistent, less full of doubt. More dogged. True to your themes. Beautifully relentless.

Of course, it's not possible to go back, just forward, always forward.

But I can't help wishing I'd sat in my backyard more, looked out the window more in winter, though I've done what I could I suppose.

Last night, I came home from work, nearly 10pm. A little past dusk. Dragged Rob and Chloe out there, talked for a bit. Ace there also. I told them about some of the encounters I had at the library on my shift, how it ended with a really tall guy, regular customer, giving me half a hug and saying thanks for being so sweet to me. Earlier, I'd asked him if he was okay, just that, because he seemed unwell, not his usual self, as though he was inhabiting a slightly different dimension. Reminding me that all the people are poetry, in some way, some form.

And so here's the yard, again, which changes every day, summer and winter. So much to observe, the impulse is not to take your eyes off of it. But, oh yes, life intervenes. As it must. 

The peonies, after blooming:

My view when I'm reading or writing out there:

Last breaths:

Bright beginnings:

The poppies grown from seeds, opening, closing:

Along the back fence:

The cherries, ripening: