Feel Better

My Koans

My primary way of interacting with my poetry koans (see this page and this one for more on the idea of poetry as a koan) is to learn a poem I love off by heart. It takes me a week or two to do so, spending about 30 minutes each day while walking with Mr Max (my canine companion), reciting lines from the poem over and over again like a mantra.

After about a week, I can usually recite a smallish (10-12 line) poem without too much stumbling. Then to be able to recite it for someone else (stressful) can take anything up to 3 months of daily work-outs to get it into muscle memory. As well as working on my weekly poem, I also endeavor to recite ALL the poems I know by heart every day. This is usually carried out first thing in the morning whilst washing the dishes, cleaning, and doing sun-salutations, all of which seem to lend themselves well to poetry. The alternative would probably be some form of desultory rumination, so I try and stick to the poems first thing in the morning.

Engaging with this practice on a daily basis, I manage to keep alive about 12,000 words of poetry in my heart and soul. I have an incredibly non-retentive brain when it comes to words, which is very frustrating, so I suspect this is the maximum amount of work required to keep a poem by-hearted, but I do it because I love the process (even if it takes a good amount of consistent effort which I don’t always love) and because it keeps my life on track.

I choose poems that I feel have something to teach me, something that I need to learn. They are self-prescriptions you might say. While by-hearting the poem, I start having a kind of conversation with it, and so too myself. I think the process is very akin to therapy or prayer.

If you are interested in finding out more about this practice of learning poems as a kind of medicine for the heart and mind, I’d very much recommend Kim Rosen’s book Saved By A Poem. Kim, more than anyone else, lit this fire in me, and I continue to be indebted to her for this. My Poetry Koan course channels a good amount of Kim. She is one of my heroes.

Below are all the poems I have learnt by heart so far and recite on a daily basis as a kind of Poetry Liturgy: 


Death whispers
In my ear:
Live now,
For I am coming.



i thank You god for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

-E. E. Cummings


Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

-Wallace Stevens


And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?
Shall we not dread him,
Shall we not fear him
After so lengthy a
Session with shade?

Though we have wept for him,
Though we have prayed
All through the night-years—
What if we wake one shimmering morning to
Hear the fierce hammering
Of his firm knuckles
Hard on the door?

Shall we not shudder?—
Shall we not flee
Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter
Of the familiar
Propitious haze?

Sweet is it, sweet is it
To sleep in the coolness
Of snug unawareness.

The dark hangs heavily
Over the eyes.

-Gwendolyn Brooks


Today we have been given a wine so
dark and so deep that to drink it
would take us beyond these two worlds.

Today we have been given a substance
so sweet that to eat it
would deliver us from self-consciousness.

Today will end once more with sleep
ending thought ending feeling
ending each and every craving.

Today Majnun’s love for Layla
is born and with it a mere
name becomes his salvation.

Every minute of the day we’ve been given
at least fifty ways to cut loose
to just slip out the back Jack.

Don’t think all ecstasies are the same
Jesus was lost in love for his God
his donkey drunk on barley.

Drink from the presence of Self
not from jars or scars or quick fixes
Every vessel is a moment of delight.

Be a connoisseur taste with caution
any wine will get you plastered
judge wisely choose the purest

The one unadulterated with fear
or the four urgent needs of the heart
drink the wine that moves you

As a camel moves when its finally
been untied from its post and
gets to just amble about freely.



We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a troubled mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

For we are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an untroubled mind
And serenity will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.

However many holy words you read,
However many you speak,
What good will they do you
If you do not act upon them?
Are you a shepherd
Counting another man’s sheep,
Never knowing the way?
Read as many words as you need,
write and speak even fewer.
Act upon them as best you can.
Forsaking the old haunts
of desire, displeasure,
despair and delusion.
Know the truth, find your peace.
Share the way.

-Siddhārtha Gautama


What is the language using us for?
Said Malcolm Mooney moving away
Slowly over the white language.
Where am I going said Malcolm Mooney.

Certain experiences seem to not
Want to go into language maybe
Because of shame or the reader’s shame.
Let us observe Malcolm Mooney.

Let us get through the suburbs and drive
Out further just for fun to see
What he will do. Reader, it does
Not matter. He is only going to be

Myself and for you slightly you
Wanting to be another. He fell.
He falls (Tenses are everywhere.)
Deep down into a glass jail.

I am in a telephoneless, blue
Green crevasse and I can’t get out.
I pay well for my messages
Being hoisted up when you are about.

I suppose you open them under the light
Of midnight of The Dancing Men.
The point is would you ever want
To be here down on the freezing line

Reading the words that steam out
Against the ice? Anyhow draw
This folded message up between
The leaning prisms from me below.

Slowly over the white language
Comes Malcolm Mooney the saviour.
My left leg has no feeling.
What is the language using us for?

-W.S. Graham


Is the idea to make a labyrinth
of the mind bigger? What’s the matter?
You still come out of the womb-dark
into the sneering court of the sun
and don’t know which turn to take.
So what? You’re made of twigs anyway.
You were on an errand but never came back,
spent too long poking something with a stick.
Was it dead or never alive?
Invisibility will slow down soon enough
for you to catch up and pull it over yourself.
No one knows what color the first hyena’s tongue
to reach you will be.
Or the vultures who are slow, careful unspellers.
So go ahead, become an expert in sleep or not,
either way you can live in a rose or smoke
only so long.
You will still be left off the list.
You will still be rain, blurry as a mouse.

-Dean Young


Tell me what I am, for I
cannot fathom at a glance
why this creature longs
for sunsets it has not yet seen,
or refuses the notion of home,
only to set out in search of it…

I wear skin the way the land bears
its own light. I cry rain, speak thunder,
burn at the core of this being human.
I am tellurian, tethered forever
to this sublunary sphere. Is that why
I am unable to forget you, you whose words
stain the skies at dusk, a flock of swallows
mapping their sorrows with each wing-beat?

Oh, canvas earth, we were never born
artist enough for you. You speak to us
in prophecies now. Your veins are molten
lava, torrential rain, hurricanes, glaciers
drowning in the currents of our undoing.
What do we land-locked souls know
about the ocean? We have a world of ice
frozen within us, and the waters are rising.

-Mary Jean Chan


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.

Welcome 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.



Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the
chaos of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blows,
The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder, we shall
find the Hesperides.

Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul,
I would be a good fountain, a good well-head,
Would blur no whisper, spoil no expression.

What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.

No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.

-D.H. Lawrence


the prophets are alive but unrecognizable to us
as calligraphy to a mouse for a time they dragged

long oar strokes across the sky now they sit
in graveyards drinking coffee forking soapy cottage cheese

into their mouths my hungry is different than their hungry
I envy their discipline but not enough to do anything about it

I blame my culture I blame everyone but myself
intent arrives like a call to prayer and is as easy to dismiss

Rumi said the two most important things in life were beauty
and bewilderment this is likely a mistranslation

after thirty years in America my father now dreams in English
says he misses the dead relatives he used to be able to visit in sleep

how many times are you allowed to lose the same beloveds
before you stop believing they’re gone

some migrant birds build their nests over rivers
to push them into the water when they leave this seems

almost warm a good harm the addictions
that were killing me fastest were the ones I loved best

turning the chisel toward myself I found my body
was still the size of my body still unarmored as wet bread

one way to live a life is to spend each moment asking
forgiveness for the last it seems to me the significance

of remorse would deflate with each performance better
to sink a little into the earth and quietly watch life unfold

violent as a bullring the carpenter’s house will always be
the last to be built sometimes a mind is ready to leave

the world before its body sometimes paradise happens
too early and leaves us shuddering in its wake

I am glad I still exist glad for cats and moss
and Turkish indigo and yet to be light upon the earth

to be steel bent around an endless black to once again
be God’s own tuning fork and yet and yet

-Kaveh Akbar


His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly–.
An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

14. DREAM SONG #14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.” I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

-John Berryman


Hours pass where I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; caps and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that
moment by moment it continues to be

-Denise Levertov


It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

-Pat Schneider


Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.

Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.

Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.

Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
even if
is there,
go and open the door.

At least
there’ll be
a draught.

-Miroslav Holub


These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

-John Ashbery


Dear pursuing presence,
dear body: you brought me
curled in womb and memory.

Gave me fingers to clutch
at grace, at malice; and ruffle
someone else’s hair; to fold a man’s
shadow back on his world;
to hold in the dark of the eye
through a winter and a fear
the poise, the shape of a breast;
a pear’s silence, in the calyx
and the noise of a childish fist.

You brought me: do not leave me
behind. When you leave all else,
my garrulous face, my unkissed
alien mind, when you muffle
and put away my pulse

to rise in the sap of trees
let me go with you and feel the weight
of honey-hives in my branching
and the burlap weave of weaver-birds
in my hair.

-A. K. Ramanujan


When I was about to die
my body lit up
like when I leave my house
without my wallet.

What am I missing? I ask
patting my chest

And I am missing everything living
that won’t come with me
into this sunny afternoon

—my body lights up for life
like all the wishes being granted in a fountain
at the same instant—
all the coins burning the fountain dry—

and I give my breath
to a small bird-shaped pipe.

In the distance, behind several voices
haggling, I hear a sound like heads
clicking together. Like a game of pool,
played with people by machines.

-Max Ritvo


When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

-John Keats


Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

-David Whyte


Death is hard to face
birth too
in between

Lousy to say the least.

Ill health anxiety & frustration all suck
as does despair disappointment humiliation.

Each and every hard to face moment is by
definition difficult including this one where
something pleasant is coming to an end and that
one where the unpleasant is starting up again.

Not getting what we want or need or had or hope
to have or hold onto & keep is hard to face.

In fact whichever way we get to inhabit
this being human takes us closer to the truth

our bodies sensations feelings
thoughts moods beliefs

are doors through which we cannot help but pass
leading into rooms where once again we find ourselves
bearing all of this with a sometimes heavy heart
whatever it is we feel right now that feels so very hard.

-Siddhārtha Gautama


All is ardour burning & blaze
Eye is ardour ear is ardour
nose lips tongue ardour
mind ardour body ardour
burning burning burning away.

Sound burning scent burning
taste burning touch burning
incandescent bone fires burning
burning pleasure burning pain
either neither burning away.

Feel the fire that burns through
this hour passion fire aversion
fire delusion fire all ablaze
birth and death & aging fires
burning burning burning away.

Contact feeling craving takes us
calls to the awakened soul
know then free your self from ardour
find some peace
while burning away.

-Siddhārtha Gautama


Go deeper than love, for the soul has greater depths,
love is like the grass, but the heart is deep wild rock
molten, yet dense and permanent.
Go down to your deep old heart, and lose sight of yourself.
And lose sight of me, the me whom you turbulently love/d.
Let us lose sight of ourselves, and break the mirrors.
For the fierce curve of our lives is moving again to the depths
out of sight, in the deep living heart.

-D. H. Lawrence


The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Say it!) like a disaster

-Elizabeth Bishop


A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

-Stephen Crane


Once there was a man,
So sensitive, so wise,
In all drink
He detected the bitter,
And in all touch
He found the sting.
At last he cried thus:
“There is nothing,
“No life,
“No joy,
“No pain,
“There is nothing save opinion,
“And opinion be damned.”

-Stephen Crane


I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never”
“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.

-Stephen Crane


Change is the new,
word for god,
lovely enough
to raise a song
or implicate
a sea of wrongs,
mighty enough,
like other gods,
to shelter,
bring together,
and estrange us.
Please, god,
we seem to say,
change us.

-Wendy Videlock


One day will be tomorrow. The day of truce
and socket and beaten. The day
you shrink into stopping, the day threadbare and pain-
shamed and limit. Until then,
you might be continuing
because that is what you do until the last moment
when you must stop.
Still everywhere the shiver
is slow on the tongue, insistent. You will stop
for some weeks,
your body taking body
from your blood
and the back of the throat,
and those weeks will be thank-you-God acres
of erasure and resurrection and the clabber of other small prayers
you stoop to collect. You will be diligent
because you have paid good money
to be taught how to stop, slanting off
from queasy transgressions, those
clutches and source. Even so,
we shouldn’t fool ourselves;
resolve cannot liquefy need.
You will probably start again soon after
you have completed the stopping,
the unwashed swell of rapture
taking your face through teeth to heartbeat,
every beaten moment on the couch.
Every relief: have hereafter and clamor.
Have nothing worse.
You’ll follow the mumble through
that ache that is tincture. Is rule
and bundle. Is famished inside you
and thrumming. You understand
there are two types, and you are
the type to release. If you had to choose
between settle and suture, you know what you’re after.
You’d pour yourself hitches
and battery. Pour yourself each subsequent time.
It will become impossible to believe
you will ever stop for good.
Stopping is not counter or suspect,
but easing back is all that is left,
the impulse has got you, it’s all that survives.

-Lauren Camp


In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.

-Stephen Crane


I walked in a desert.
And I cried,
“Ah, God, take me from this place!”
A voice said, “It is no desert.”
I cried, “Well, but
“The sand, the heat, the vacant horizon.”
A voice said, “It is no desert.”

-Stephen Crane


If I should cast off this tattered coat,
And go free into the mighty sky;
If I should find nothing there
But a vast blue,
Echoless, ignorant,
What then?

-Stephen Crane


If the water were clear enough,
if the water were still,
but the water is not clear,
the water is not still,
you would see yourself,
slipped out of your skin,
nosing upstream,
slapping, thrashing,
over the rocks
till you paint them
with your belly’s blood:
Finned Ego,
yard of muscle that coils,

If the knowledge were given you,
but it is not given,
for the membrane is clouded
with self-deceptions
and the iridescent image swims
through a mirror that flows,
you would surprise yourself
in that other flesh
heavy with milt,
bruised, battering toward the dam
that lips the orgiastic pool.

Come. Bathe in these waters.
Increase and die.

If the power were granted you
to break out of your cells,
but the imagination fails
and the doors of the senses close
on the child within,
you would dare to be changed,
as you are changing now,
into the shape you dread
beyond the merely human.
A dry fire eats you.
Fat drips from your bones.
The flutes of your gills discolor.
You have become a ship for parasites.
The great clock of your life
is slowing down,
and the small clocks run wild.
For this you were born.
You have cried to the wind
and heard the wind’s reply:
“I did not choose the way,
the way chose me.”
You have tasted the fire on your tongue
till it is swollen black
with a prophetic joy:
“Burn with me!
The only music is time,
the only dance is love.”

If the heart were pure enough,
but it is not pure,
you would admit
that nothing compels you
any more, nothing
at all abides,
but nostalgia and desire,
the two-way ladder
between heaven and hell.
On the threshold
of the last mystery,
at the brute absolute hour,
you have looked into the eyes
of your creature self,
which are glazed with madness,
and you say
he is not broken but endures,
limber and firm
in the state of his shining,
forever inheriting his salt kingdom,
from which he is banished

-Stanley Kunitz


To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the sun:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck;
A time to hurt, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to scatter stones,
and a time to gather them together;
A time to embrace, and a time to hold back;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
a time to save, and a time to use;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent, and a time to speak;
A time of love, and a time of hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

-Kohelet/Solomon (,_date_and_author)


After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

-Wallace Stevens


Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different.

Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally
And the color of the day put in
Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter
For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic
Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.

Only then can the chronic inattention
Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.

-John Ashbery


My own heart let me have more have pity on; let Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst ’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
’s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather—as skies
Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, Awfulrepenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

-Mary Oliver


Thing of dirt and water and oxygen marked by thinking
and reacting and a couch
one may or may not be permitted
to sleep on. He may not permit me
to touch him or to take the bone
from his mouth, but he does, and that’s a choice
based on many factors, not the least of which
is his own desire to let me
do these things. How I could ever
think or feel myself more
deserving of a single thing than
this being, whom I call by a name the same way
my parents chose a name for me. The same way my genes
went expressing themselves to make my face exactly
my face. This isn’t special. Or this is special. But it’s one
answer, the same, for us both.

-Holly Amos


What is the language using us for?
It uses us all and in its dark
Of dark actions selections differ.

I am not making a fool of myself
For you. What I am making is
A place for language in my life

Which I want to be a real place
Seeing I have to put up with it
Anyhow. What are Communication’s

Mistakes in the magic medium doing
To us? It matters only in
So far as we want to be telling

Each other alive about each other
Alive. I want to be able to speak
And sing and make my soul occur

In front of the best and be respected
For that and even be understood
By the ones I like who are dead.

I would like to speak in front
Of myself with all my ears alive
And find out what it is I want.

-W.S. Graham


And it was at that age, Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when.
No they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
but something kicked in my soul,
a fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I learnt the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And me, miniscule being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

-Pablo Neruda


The first cell felt no call to divide.
Fed on abundant salts and sun,
still thin, it simply spread,
rocking on water, clinging to stone,
a film of obliging strength.
Its endoplasmic reticulum
was a thing of incomparable curvaceous length;
its nucleus, Golgi apparatus, RNA
magnificent. With no incidence
of loneliness, inner conflict, or deceit,
no predator or prey,
it had little to do but thrive,
draw back from any sharp heat
or bitterness, and change its pastel
colors in a kind of song.
We are descendants of the second cell.

-Sarah Lindsay


What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?

-Samuel Taylor Coleridge

46. SONG

I wait each night for a self.
I say the mist, I say the strange
tumble of leaves, I say a motor
in the distance, but I mean
a self and a self and a self.
A small cold wind
coils and uncoils in the corner
of every room. A vagrant.
In the dream
I gather my life in bundles
and stand at the edge of a field
of snow. It is a field I know
but have never seen. It is
nowhere and always new:
What about the lives
I might have lived?
As who? And who
will be accountable
for this regret I see
no way to avoid? A core,
or a husk, I need to learn
not how to speak, but from where.
Do you understand? I say
name, but I mean a conduit
from me to me, I mean a net,
I mean an awning of stars.

-Charif Shanahan


There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

-William Stafford


I don’t know. Have the words ever
Made anything of you, near a kind
Of truth you thought you were? Me
Neither. The words like albatrosses
Are only a doubtful touch towards
You going and me lifting my hand
To speak to illustrate an observed
Catastrophe. What is the weather
Using us for where we are ready
With all our language lines aboard?
The beginning wind slaps the canvas.
Are you ready? Are you ready?

-W.S. Graham


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

-Naomi Shihab Nye


Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.

Other makings of the sun
Were waste and welter
And the ripe shrub writhed.

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

-Wallace Steven


I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect
contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

-Marianne Moore


Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

-James Wright


It seems we have said too little about
the heart, per se,

how it sits in its chambered nub
of grease and echo

listening for movement in the farthest
reed beds — any feathered thing will do,

love being interspecific, here,
more often than we imagine.

If anything, I’d liken us to certain
warblers, less appealing in the wild

than how we’d look
in coloured lithographs,

yet now and then, I’m on the point of
bitterns at the far edge of the lake,

that cry across the marshes like the doom
you only get in books, where people die

so readily for love, each heart becomes
a species in itself, the sound it makes

distinctive, one more descant in the dark,
before it disappears into the marshes.

-John Burnside


You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don’t even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of
the next moment. All the immense
images in me — the far-off, deeply-felt
landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and
unsuspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods–
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house– , and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
Streets that I chanced upon,–
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and,
startled, gave back my too-sudden image.
Who knows? Perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening…

-Rainer Maria Rilke


Exposed on the cliffs of the heart. Look, how tiny down there,
look: the last village of words and, higher,
(but how tiny) still one last
farmhouse of feeling. Can you see it?
Exposed on the cliffs of the heart. Stoneground
Under your hands. Even here, though,
something can bloom; on a silent cliff-edge
an unknowing plant blooms, singing, into the air.
But the one who knows? Ah, he began to know
and is quiet now, exposed on the cliffs of the heart.
While, with their full awareness,
many sure-footed mountain animals pass
or linger. And the great sheltered bird flies, slowly
circling, around the peak’s pure denial. – But
without a shelter, here on the cliffs of the heart…

-Rainer Maria Rilke


Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not say this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?



Please love me
and I will play for you
this poem
upon the guitar
I myself made
out of cardboard and black threads
when I was ten years old.
Love me or else.

Franz Wright


You do your thing, and I do my thing.
You are not in this world to live up to
my expectations, and nor am I.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find
each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.

– Fritz Perls


The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

-Derek Walcott


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life or my loved ones’
lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry


We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

-Csezlaw Milosz


What does it matter,
A dream of love, or a dream of lies?
We’re all gonna be in the same place when we die.
Your spirit don’t leave knowing
Your face or your name,
The wind through our bones is all that remains.
And we’re all gonna be, yeah, yeah,
I said we’re all gonna be, yeah, yeah,
I said we’re all gonna be, yeah, yeah,
I said we’re all going to be just dirt in the ground.

The quill from a buzzard,
The blood writes the word,
I want to know am I the sky or a bird?
‘Cause hell is boiling over,
And heaven is full,
We’re chained to the world,
And we all gotta pull.
And we’re all gonna be, yeah, yeah,
I said we’re all gonna be, yeah, yeah,
I said we’re all gonna be, yeah, yeah,
I said we’re all going to be just dirt in the ground.

Now, Cain slew Abel,
He killed him with a stone,
The sky cracked open,
And the thunder groaned.
Along a river of flesh
Can these dry bones live?
Take a king or a beggar
And the answer they’ll give
Is we’re all gonna be yeah, yeah,
I said we’re all gonna be, yeah, yeah,
I said we’re all gonna be, yeah, yeah,
I said we’re all going to be just dirt in the ground.

-Tom Waits


One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around
and inside you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-Mary Oliver


When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

-Mary Oliver


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

-T.S. Eliot


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.

-Jack Gilbert


I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

-R.S. Thomas


In the dream
I gave the bird
freedom. In real life
I told it my dream
in its cage. It

sang then notes
of gold hotter
than my tears punishing
itself for my dream.

-R.S. Thomas


It is an old story:
the ship that was here last night
gone this morning; love
here one moment not here
any more. Time with a reputation
for transience permanent
as the ring in the rock
on beaches that would persuade
us we are the first comers.
We have been here before
and failed, bringing creation
about our ears. Why
can we not be taught
there is no hill beyond this one
we roll our minds to the top
of, not to take off into
empty space, nor to be cast back down
where we began, but to hold the position
assigned to us, long as time
lasts, somewhere half-way
up between earth and heaven.”

-R.S. Thomas


Quarterly, is it, writing reproaches me:
‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of attention and good looks,
You could get them still by writing a few books.’

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.
By now they’ve a publisher, good friends, and a wife:
Clearly writing has something to do with life

—In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can’t expect writing carefree with all you desire,
And however you bank your scrawl, the writing you save
Won’t in the end make you less of a slave to them.

I listen to my writing singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

-Phillip Larkin (ish)


Coppery light hesitates
again in the small-leaved

Japanese plum. Summer
and sunset, the peace
of the writing desk

and the habitual peace
of writing, these things
form an order I only

belong to in the idleness
of attention. Last light
rims the blue mountain

and I almost glimpse
what I was born to,
not so much in the sunlight

or the plum tree
as in the pulse
that forms these lines.

-Robert Hass


Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

-Philip Larkin


If there must be a god in the house, must be,
Saying things in the rooms and on the stair,

Let her move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
Or moonlight, silently, as Plato’s ghost

Or Aristotle’s skeleton. Let her hang out
Her stars on the wall. She must dwell quietly.

She must be incapable of speaking, closed,
As those are: as light, for all its motion, is;

As color, even the closest to us, is;
As shapes, though they portend us, are.

It is the human that is the alien,
The human that has no cousin in the moon.

It is the human that demands its speech
From other beasts or from the incommunicable mass.

If there must be a god in the house, let her be one
That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,

A vermilioned nothingness, any stick of the mass
Of which we are too distantly a part.

-Wallace Stevens


Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.

Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.

-Les Murray


I am the song that sings the bird.
I am the leaf that grows the land.
I am the tide that moves the moon.
I am the stream that halts the sand.
I am the cloud that drives the storm.
I am the earth that lights the sun.
I am the fire that strikes the stone.
I am the clay that shapes the hand.
I am the word that speaks this man.

-Charles Causley


This the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I care for
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.
There is no house
like the house of belonging.

-David Whyte


Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries
It sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name
You want to go where people know
The people are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

-Gary Portnoy


On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves

-W.S. Merwin


What words or harder gift
does the light require of me
carving from the dark
this difficult tree?

What place or farther peace
do I almost see
emerging from the night
and heart of me?

The sky whitens, goes on and on.
Fields wrinkle into rows
of cotton, go on and on.
Night like a fling of crows
disperses and is gone.

What song, what home,
what calm or one clarity
can I not quite come to,
never quite see:
this field, this sky, this tree.

-Christian Wiman


Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without suffering

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

-James Dickey


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

-W.S. Merwin


I look for you my curl of sleep
my breathing wave on the night shore
my star in the fog of morning
I think you can always find me

I call to you under my breath
I whisper to you through the hours
all your names my ear of shadow
I think you can always hear me

I wait for you my promised day
my time again my homecoming
my being where you wait for me
I think always of you waiting

-W.S. Merwin


Little soul little stray
little drifter
now where will you stay
all pale and all alone
after the way
you used to make fun of things.

-Hadrian (tr. Merwin)


I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary–to be–Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

-Emily Dickinson


If you are not the free person you want to be you must find a place to tell the truth about that. To tell how things go for you. Candor is like a skein being produced inside the belly day after day, it has to get itself woven out somewhere. You could whisper down a well. You could write a letter and keep it in a drawer. You could inscribe a curse on a ribbon of lead and bury it in the ground to lie unread for thousands of years. The point is not to find a reader, the point is the telling itself. Consider a person standing alone in a room. The house is silent. She is looking down at a piece of paper. Nothing else exists. All her veins go down into this paper. She takes her pen and writes on it some marks no one else will ever see, she bestows on it a kind of surplus, she tops it off with a gesture as private and accurate as her own name.

-Anne Carson

86. VOW

To get by
on awe alone
in an early hour.
The first hour.
The new life.
the condition
within which
all rises and falls.
To allow it
to overcome you.

-Joseph Massey


Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte and his modgeþanc,
weorc wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs,
ece drihten, or onstealde.

He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig scyppend;
þa middangeard moncynnes weard,
ece drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, frea ælmihtig.

-Caedmon (translation)


Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done
in earth, as it is in heaven:
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

-Jesus of Nazareth


You know how to write poetry.
It is all you need to be happy.
But you will not be happy,
you will be miserable, thinking
about all the other things you need.
After years and years of misery
one thing as a poet you can look forward to
the day you give up wanting what you haven’t got
to focus on the thing you have got which is poetry.
Let nothing cheat, steal, or deflect you from it,
Not even poetry itself. Why are you standing there?
You should have fled before I finished the first sentence.

-Mary Ruefle


This man Sisyphus, he has to push
his dense unthinkable rock
through bogs woods crops glittering
optical rivers and hoof-sucked holes,
as high as starlight as low as granite,
and every inch of it he feels
the vertical stress of the sky
draws trees narrow, wears water round
and the lithe, cold-blooded grasses
weighed so down they have to hang their tips like cats’ tails;
and it rains it blows but the mad delicate world
will not let will not let him out
and when he prays, he hears God passing with a
swish at this, a knock at that.

There is not a soft or feeling part,
the rock’s heart is only another bone;
now he knows he will not get back home,
his whole outlook is a black rock;
like a foetus, undistractedly listening
to the clashing and whistling and tapping of another world,
he has to endure his object,
he has to oppose his patience to his perceptions…
and there is neither mouth
nor eye, there is not anything
so closed, so abstract as this rock
except innumerable other rocks
that lie down under the shady trees
or chafe slowly in the seas.

The secret is to walk evading nothing
through rain sleet darkness wind,
not to abandon the spirit of repetition:
there are the green and yellow trees, the dog,
the dark barrier of water,
there goes the thundercloud shaking its blue wolf’s head;
and the real effort is to stare
unreconciled at how the same things are,
but he is half aware he is
lost or at any rate straining
out of the earth into a lifted sphere
(dust in his hair, a dark blood thread from his ear)
and jumps at shapes, like on a country road,
in heavy boots, heading uphill in silence.

-Alice Oswald


My life, Maharaj,
is a series of events,
just like yours

You are disentangled
and watch the passing show
While I stick to my perceptions
driven by whatever grabs me.

My problems are
Body-mind problems
thoughts, feelings
family, friends,
name, shame,

You say: I AM THAT!
All hearts all souls
all bodies all minds,
all life all death all eternity.

This sometimes loosens
what needs to be lost
my beliefs,
my perceptions,
my terrible beautiful fantasies..

All come to rest in awareness
where two is less than one,
where you take this flower
so singular in colour

Though mind asks how
and why and what for,
the lucky ones, the blessed ones
learn to live with and in this truth.



You’re having a bad day.
Chased by a tiger to the edge of a cliff,
you scramble over and grab hold of a vine.

But now there’s another one prowling below,
and two hungry mice heading for your lifeline.

You take a deep breath,
adjusting to how things are,
and notice some wild strawberries
growing nearby,
dotted with flowers
and tiny red fruit.

What else can you do now but reach for a berry.
What else can you do now?


The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
the journeys come and go between honey and pain.

No, the net of the years doesn’t unravel: there is no net.
The days don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
Sleep doesn’t divide life into halves, or action, or silence, or honour.

Life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in our bones.

We, the mortals, touch this metal,
the wind, the rain, trees, plants, and stone,
knowing they will remain, inert or burning,
as we go on discovering, writing things down:
for it is our destiny to love and say goodbye.

-Pablo Neruda


There’s a bird crying outside, or maybe calling, anyway it goes on and on
without stopping, so I begin to think it’s my bird, my insistent
I, I, I that today is so trapped by some nameless but still relentless longing
that I can’t get any further than this, one note clicking metronomically
in the afternoon silence, measuring out some possible melody
I can’t begin to learn. I could say it’s the bird of my loneliness
asking, as usual, for love, for more anyway than I have; I could as easily call it
grief, ambition, knot of self that won’t untangle, fear of my own heart. All
I can do is listen to the way it keeps on, as if it’s enough just to launch a voice
against stillness, even a voice that says so little, that no one is likely to answer
with anything but sorrow, and their own confusion. I, I, I, isn’t it the sweetest
sound, the beautiful, arrogant ego refusing to disappear? I don’t know
what I want, only that I’m desperate for it, that I can’t stop asking.
That when the bird finally quiets I need to say it doesn’t, that all afternoon
I hear it, and into the evening; that even now, in the darkness, it goes on.

-Kim Addonizio



Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage
I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here
among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?
My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.
Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

-Marie Howe


In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Never should I forget this
in the life of my fatigued retinas.
Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Carlos Andrade Drummond (tr. Elizabeth Bishop)


All our living
is in waiting.
In these moments
we find our myriad selves
anxious, hopeful, trembling,
wishful, fearful, impatient.
All our dancing shadows
are there
flitting in the half light
of unreason
crowding together
in fevers of movement
never still, never one.

Then a voice says ‘Next’
and a new dance

-Angus Macmillan


I know there is still time –
time for the hands
to open, for the bones of them
to be filled
by those failed harvests of want,
the bread imagined of the days of not having.

Now that the fear
has been rummaged down to its husk,
and the wind blowing
the flesh away translates itself
into flesh and the flesh
gives itself in its reveries to the wind.

I remember those summer nights
when I was young and empty,
when I lay through the darkness
wanting, wanting,
I would have nothing of anything I wanted –
that total craving
that hollows the heart out irreversibly.

So it surprises me now to hear
the steps of my life following me –
so much of it gone
it returns, everything that drove me crazy
comes back, blessing the misery
of each step it took me into the world;
as though a prayer had ended
and the bit of changed air
between the palms goes free
to become the glitter
on some common thing that inexplicably shines.

And the old voice,
which once made its broken-off, choked, parrot-incoherences,
speaks again,
this time on the palatum cordis
this time saying there is time, still time,
for one who can groan
to sing,
for one who can sing to be healed.

-Galway Kinnell


You grow old.
You love everybody.
You forgive everyone.
You think: we are all leaves
dragged along by the wind.
Then comes a splendid spotted
yellow one—ah, distinction!
And in that moment
you are dragged under.

-Mary Ruefle


It makes one all right, though you hadn’t thought of it,
A sound like the sound of the sky on fire, like Armageddon,
Whistling and crackling, the explosions of sunlight booming
As the huge mass of gas rages into the emptiness around it.
It isn’t a sound you are often aware of, though the light speeds
To us in seconds, each dawn leaping easily across a chasm
Of space that swallows the sound of that sphere, but
If you listen closely some morning, when the sun swells
Over the horizon and the world is still and still asleep,
You might hear it, a faint noise so far inside your mind
That it must come from somewhere, from light rushing to darkness,
Energy burning towards entropy, towards a peaceful solution,
Burning brilliantly, spontaneously, in the middle of nowhere,
And you, too, must make a sound that is somewhat like it,
Though that, of course, you have no way of hearing at all.

-George Bradley