Monday, July 25, 2016

an observation, a prayer, a toast, and small comfort

We'll begin, then, with some small comfort, to which perhaps you will add your own. For me, sweet peas in an old jam jar, dog sleeping nearby, coffee in the backyard, early morning.

Small Comfort

by Katha Pollitt

Coffee and cigarettes in a clean cafe,
forsythia lit like a damp match against
a thundery sky drunk on its own ozone,

the laundry cool and crisp and folded away
again in the lavender closet - too late to find
comfort enough in such small daily moments

of beauty, renewal, calm, too late to imagine
people would rather be happy than suffering
and inflicting suffering. We're near the end,

but O before the end, as the sparrows wing
each night to their secret nests in the elm's green dome
O let the last bus bring

love to lover, let the starveling
dog turn the corner and lope suddenly
miraculously, down its own street, home.


Your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

- Hafiz

And maybe a certain kind of loneliness can bring small comfort, too. 

But then this, yes?

Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself - what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing. Recreate and repeat.

Okay, next this:

If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy!

~Feofil, The Fool for Christ (1788 - 1853)


I've printed off the above as a reminder for myself. It brings to mind the following quotation which I came across years ago in an Annie Dillard book and which I had on my desk for ages. It all comes back to the energy. A reminder that in order to do our work we must conserve and direct our energy into proper channels. Refrain from becoming distracted....stop wasting time.

"Work, work!...Work! Don't waste a moment...Calm yourself, quiet yourself, master your senses. Work, work! Just dress in old clothes, eat simple food...feign ignorance, appear inarticulate. This is most economical with energy, yet effective."

- by the 7th Century Chinese Chan Buddhist master Hongren

Bright Day

by Stanley Moss

I sing this morning: Hello, hello.
I proclaim the bright day of the soul.
The sun is a good fellow,
the devil is a good guy, no deaths today I know.
I live because I live. I do not die because I cannot die.
In Tuscan sunlight Masaccio
painted his belief that St. Peter’s shadow
cured a cripple, gave him back his sight.
I’ve come through eighty-five summers. I walk in sunlight.
In my garden, death questions every root, flowers reply.
I know the dark night of the soul
does not need God’s eye,
as a beggar does not need a hand or a bowl.

A couple of excerpts from On Being:

KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: Elizabeth Gilbert’s name is synonymous with her fantastically best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love. But she started out writing for publications by men and for men. Eat Pray Love was borne of a moment of total collapse in her life. And you can call it “chick lit” — but it’s inspired millions to move forward with their lives differently. Through the disorienting process of becoming a global celebrity, Elizabeth Gilbert has reflected deeply on the gift and challenge of creativity. She defines creativity — in life as in art — as choosing the path of curiosity over the path of fear. This has resonance for our common life too - and she says it’s not to be confused with the more familiar trope to follow your passion. 
MS. ELIZABETH GILBERT: I think curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. And it's a very gentle friend, and a very forgiving friend, and a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes not so available. And so when we live in a world that has come to fetishize passion above all, there's a great deal of pressure around that.

Later Gilbert says:
What gets me through those 90 percent of it being boring part of creativity without turning it into angst anymore — and I say “anymore” because I used to do it — is that faith that the work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through me. And so when it's not coming, and it's not working, and it's not being good, and I'm stuck in a problem around the creativity, it's a very important shift in my life over the years to not think that I'm being punished or that I'm failing, but to think that this thing, this mystery that wants communion with me is trying to help me.

You've likely already read this, or heard similar from EG, but for me it bears repeating: embrace curiosity. Remember that the work wants to be made. You are the one obligated to make it. 

The theme today might be flowers. After all the rain we've had the garden is bursting. Friends gave us a margarine container filled with poppyseeds collected from their garden. And we planted some in pots in the spring, and they've now arrived. 

The Poem

by George Oppen

A poetry of the meaning of words
And a bond with the universe

I think there is no light in the world
but the world

And I think there is light

From another piece in this book I keep coming back to:

"Poetry, I have tardily determined, not only seeks silence, it aspires to silence. I mean not that it aims for perfection but for an opening, an unofficial opening, a zone wherein the language affords unexpected associations and alternative outcomes." 

- C. D. Wright

I may have shared the above before, but I seem to need to read and re-read Wright. Because, yes, the dreams are hard to clarify. The tempo of the day is madness, often. 

But then, walking, one finds this sort of thing. (Someone in the neighbourhood is practicing guerrilla art). 

An Observation

by May Sarton

True gardeners cannot bear a glove
Between the sure touch and the tender root,
Must let their hands grow knotted as they move
With a rough sensitivity about
Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,
Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.
And so I watched my mother's hands grow scarred,
She who could heal the wounded plant or friend
With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;
I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,
But now her truth is given me to live,
As I learn for myself we must be hard
To move among the tender with an open hand,
And to stay sensitive up to the end
Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

I'm sure I've read the above poem dozens of times, but it's just now that it particularly hits home. Poetry is like that, and it's why it's worth re-reading and constantly revisiting.

So this is what my back garden is looking like these days. (Still rather dog-trampled, but the bells have survived, in spite of).

A Toast

by Ilya Kaminsky

To your voice, a mysterious virtue, 
to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing, 

to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint, 
to hyacinth and bluebell lily, 

to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope, 
to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees. 

Bless each thing on earth until it sickens, 
until each ungovernable heart admits: “I confused myself 

and yet I loved—and what I loved  
I forgot, what I forgot brought glory to my travels, 

to you I traveled as close as I dared, Lord.” 


A toast to these bells in my backyard, and to the dog-trampled delphinium, leaning.


by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Let's also remember: this isn't a contest.

When our daughter was small, my mantra was, life isn't a contest. (Along with, everyone can be different). Motherhood, it often seemed in those days especially, was made into a contest by some. And writing, too, often seems so. But I've always tried to get out of that mode, to set it aside. These days I'm taking, we're all trying our best, out for a spin as a mantra.

Which reminds me of one of the loveliest poems every written:

Late Fragment

by Raymond Carver

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

And I know I don't need to tell any of you to pay attention, though in all honesty, I do remind myself of this quite often.

“Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

- Simone Weil

This is the time of year we get to pay attention to flowers. Which is glorious and fine.

These are in my parents' backyard.

And these are the neighbour's flowers which grow up and under the fence and into our backyard. Welcome visitors.

From Blossoms

by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

The poppies again, another day, different light.

These crazy pink umbrellas:

Flowers from around the 'hood.

This next one amuses me, due to the huge truck bokeh....

My two favourite people :)

More flowers from my parents' yard:

Last things:

- Still with the voting. Please and thank you

- Taking a few hints from the teens

33 Roald Dahl quotes, including, “If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.”


“I like enthusiasts of any kind.”

Wishing you a calm week ahead, filled with flowers and enthusiasm. 

- Shawna



  1. A thoroughly enlightening post, Shawna. I especially enjoyed the selection of poems and quotes.

  2. exactly what I needed in this moment. much appreciated! thank you!

  3. Wonderful read, thanks! I looked through all the links, too, as I am enjoying my reading time with the sound of the birds and the fountain. You post such peaceful, lovely things. And those bellflowers!!

  4. This post is oozing with beauty.. "from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom"

  5. Colour, texture, light - boundaried and blurred - your flowers and words calm, delight and affirm. I listened to EG's interview last weekend, and appreciated the phrases you referenced. And Last Fragment. And the reminder, life is not a contest. Thank you.


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