Poetry, perhaps like no other art form, and especially if learnt by heart, encourages us to think and live with greater flexibility and resilience.
One aspect of psychological flexibility is Acceptance, or as I sometimes prefer to define this tricky process insufficiently encapsulated by the word itself: “a willingness to be with that which is, whether liking it or not”.
So here are a bunch of (broadly speaking) #AcceptancePoems that I am currently collecting together for a little anthology called Poetry Koan, which is also my Twitter handle –@poetrykoan– where I like tweeting these poems on a daily basis.
I’m currently in the process of gathering together the thousands of poems I’ve tweeted in the last few years and working out which of the following categories (the other five processes of psychological flexibility) each poem falls into: #DefusionPoems, #SelfAsContextPoems, #PresentMomentContactPoems, ValuesPoems, and CommitmentPoems (links to follow).
There is, as you might imagine, a good deal of overlap here, so some criteria might be needed for what I’m taking to be an Acceptance Poem.
WHAT IS AN ACCEPTANCE POEM? FIVE CRITERIA FOR INCLUSION
- Poems that are “open to the entirety of one’s experience”, having “an all-or-nothing quality to them…like a leap.” (Luoma, 2017)
- Poems that show us how to “open up and make room for painful feelings, sensations, urges, and emotions” rather than turning away from them. (Harris, 2009)
- Poems that model a willingness to have an experience as it is, rather than as our minds say it is (Flaxman, 2011).
- Poems that take “an intentionally open, receptive, nonjudgemental posture with respect to various aspects of experience” (Wilson, 2008)
- Also poems that hint or point to the costs of us not doing any of the above.
ACCEPTANCE POEMS THAT MIGHT GO INTO THE ANTHOLOGY (please email me if you have examples of other #AcceptancePoems that you would like to see in the anthology)
INSTRUCTIONS ON NOT GIVING UP
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
WATER, IS TAUGHT BY THIRST.
Water, is taught by thirst.
Land—by the Oceans passed.
Peace—by its battles told—
Love, by Memorial Mould—
Birds, by the snow.
LIVE THE QUESTIONS
Let us be patient towards all that is unsolved
in our hearts, and try to love the questions.
The questions themselves,
like locked rooms, or books now
written in a very foreign tongue.
Let us not seek the answers today,
which cannot be handed over anyway,
as we would not be able to live them.
For is not the point to live everything?
If so, why not live these questions?
Perhaps then we can gradually,
without even noticing, live ourselves
some distant time into an answer?
-Rainer Maria Rilke
A MAN IN HIS LIFE
A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.
A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
takes years and years to do.
A man doesn’t have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.
And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn’t learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.
He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there’s time for everything.
THE MANGER OF INCIDENTALS
We are surrounded by the absurd excess of the universe.
By meaningless bulk, vastness without size,
power without consequence. The stubborn iteration
that is present without being felt.
Nothing the spirit can marry. Merely phenomenon
and its physics. An endless, endless of going on.
No habitat where the brain can recognize itself.
No pertinence for the heart. Helpless duplication.
The horror of none of it being alive.
No red squirrels, no flowers, not even weed.
Nothing that knows what season it is.
The stars uninflected by awareness.
Miming without implication. We alone see the iris
in front of the cabin reach its perfection
and quickly perish. The lamb is born into happiness
and is eaten for Easter. We are blessed
with powerful love and it goes away. We can mourn.
We live the strangeness of being momentary,
and still we are exalted by being temporary.
The grand Italy of meanwhile. It is the fact of being brief,
being small and slight that is the source of our beauty.
We are a singularity that makes music out of noise
because we must hurry. We make a harvest of loneliness
and desiring in the blank wasteland of the cosmos.
SOMEDAY I’LL LOVE OCEAN VUONG
Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red tripwire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty into.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
At the moment it feels a bit like
those times I would try to find
a hiding place behind
the gym building yep, a dank place
with views of chip packets
From far away something
gnaws at me, it could be
a lost sense of safety or something, but
really that’s how I always feel
as if I’ve just cum
and now all I can do is smell
the mildew on the sheets. I tried
the whole day to remember
the name of this particular
brand of biscuits
and when it finally happened I didn’t move
from the bed. Poetry
today seems to me like a place
I’ve not been given a ticket to, an old love
whose number I still can’t
bring myself to delete, a distant island
populated by penguins.
& FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES
Of which the first is love. The sad, unrepeatable fact
that the loves we shouldn’t foster burrow faster and linger longer
than sanctioned kinds can. Loves that thrive on absence, on lack
of return, or worse, on harm, are unkillable, Father.
They do not die in us. And you know how we’ve tried.
Loves nursed, inexplicably, on thoughts of sex,
a return to touched places, a backwards glance, a sigh–
they come back like the ride. They are with us at the terminus
when cancer catches us. They have never been away.
Forgive us the people we love–their dragnet influence.
Those disallowed to us, those who frighten us, those who stay
on uninvited in our loves and every night revisit us.
Accept from us the inappropriate
by which our dreams and daily scenes stay separate.
Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.
So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.
Ok, I said it.
I was twelve. I was in the backseat
of a moving car. I had a crush.
I was silent, except for my mouth
chock-full of braces and rape.
I’ve been writing around the rim
of the word like the blunted tip
of a spent bullet. But, I said it.
I’m saying it now. I was twelve.
I was silent. I didn’t stop it, ok.
I had a crush and the mind of a child.
When I was a [ ], I spake as a
[ ], I understood as a [ ],
I thought as a [ ]: but when I became
[ ], I put away [ ] things.
I told you I had a crush. I’m telling
you I was crushed. I am crushing
the flood, overwhelming. What now?
There is a dead cockroach in the corner.
I won’t pick it up. I keep sweeping
the thing on the floor.
THE THING IS
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
A room does not turn its back on grief.
Anger does not excite it.
Before desire, it neither responds
nor draws back in fear.
Without changing expression,
and gives back;
not a tuft in the mattress alters.
Windowsills evenly welcome
both heat and cold.
Radiators speak or fall silent as they must.
Doors are not equivocal,
floorboards do not hesitate or startle.
Impatience does not stir the curtains,
a bed is neither irritable nor rapacious.
Whatever disquiet we sense in a room
we have brought there.
And so I instruct my ribs each morning,
pointing to hinge and plaster and wood –
You are matter, as they are.
See how perfectly it can be done.
Hold, one day more, what is asked.
AM I EQUAL
Am I equal to a thing I’m given.
a thing that you’d make meaningful
by simply leaning up against it:
ivy in here, unbloomed
pussywillow out the window,
scraping at the house?
What, at my back, is scraping
and scarcely heard;
to find it, would closing
and pressing one eye help?
Or two, which causes an inward
the cliffs really are,
the blind, reddening stars
in the never-truly-dark
of the contemplatives, where
shine, like sun on a bottle cap,
finds a small thing.
and caresses it for the sake of nothing?
The house is ugly – but it is the house I live in.
Tomorrow I will plant a rose-bush by the door-step
And edge the gravel path with homely scented spice-pinks,
And I will weed the path and rake it smoothly over.
-Ethel Arnold Tilden
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Chemo Tarceva prayer
meditation affirmation Xanax
Avastin Nebulizer Zofran
Zoloft Vicodin notebooks
nurses oxygen tank pastina
magical thinking PET scans movies
therapy phone calls candles
acceptance denial meatloaf
doctors rosary beads sleep
Irish soda bread internet incantations
visitors sesame oil pain patches
CAT scans massage shopping
thin sliced Italian bread with melted mozzarella
St. Anthony oil Lourdes water St. Peregrine
tea spring water get well cards
relaxation tapes recliner cooking shows
cotton T-shirts lawn furniture a new baby
giving up Paris giving up Miami charts
bargaining not bargaining connections
counting with her breathing for her will
Pride and Prejudice Downton Abbey prayer
watching TV not watching TV prayer
prayer prayer prayer
MAN CARRYING THING
The poem must resist the intelligence
Almost successfully. Illustration:
A brune figure in winter evening resists
Identity. The thing he carries resists
The most necessitous sense. Accept them, then,
As secondary (parts not quite perceived
Of the obvious whole, uncertain particles
Of the certain solid, the primary free from doubt,
Things floating like the first hundred flakes of snow
Out of a storm we must endure all night,
Out of a storm of secondary things),
A horror of thoughts that suddenly are real.
We must endure our thoughts all night, until
The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.
Learn the alchemy
true human beings know.
The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrad.
Joke with torment brought by the Friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets
that serve to cover, then are taken off.
and the beautiful naked body underneath,
is the sweetness that comes after grief.
The hurt you embrace
Call it to your arms where it can change.
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Well, come, and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
They may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door with kindness,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
-Rumi (adapted from Coleman Barks)
Through the gateway of feeling our weakness,
there may we find our strength?
Through the gateway of feeling our pain,
there may we find pleasure and joy?
Through the gateway of feeling our fear,
there may we find security and safety?
Through the gateway of feeling our loneliness,
there may we find our capacity for, love and companionship?
Through the gateway of feeling our hate,
there may we find our capacity to love?
Through the gateway of feeling our hopelessness,
there may we find our true and justified hope?
Through the gateway of accepting the unmet needs of our childhood,
there may we find our fulfilment in the present.
– Eva Pierrakos (adapted)
Say tomorrow doesn’t come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun’s a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl’s eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon’s a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt’s plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen’s a cow’s corpse.
Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn’t matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you’d still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.