Monday, December 28, 2009

Mary's Hiding, by Rumi

This beautiful poem was given to me by my beautiful friend Daniel. I do not know who translated it.

Before these possessions you love slip away,
say what Mary said when she was

surprised by Gabriel, I'll hide inside God.
Naked in her room she saw a form

of beauty that could give her new life.
Like the sun coming up, or a rose as it opens.

She leaped, as her habit was, out of herself
into the divine presence.

There was fire in the channel of her breath.
Light and majesty came, I am smoke

from that fire and proof of its existence,
more than any external form.

I want to be where
your bare foot walks,

because maybe before you step,
you'll look at the ground. I want that blessing.

Would you like to have revealed to you
the truth of the Friend?

Leave the rind,
and descend into the pith.

Fold within fold, the beloved
drowns in its own being. This world
is drenched with that drowning.

Imagining is like feeling around
in a dark lane, or washing
your eyes with blood.

You are the truth
from foot to brow. Now,
what else would you like to know?

Friday, December 4, 2009

In Memoriam: Jack Myers

It's Not My Cup of Tea
Jack Myers

My wife wants to know
what difference does it make
what cup I drink from,
and I complain
I like what I like,
and that's the story.

We have many kinds of cups.
But this morning my favorite is dirty
and I'm hunting for something
that won't make me think:

One's a fertility goddess,
huge fructuous belly, little head.

Another's pleasant enough for guests,
but has to have its finicky little saucer
underneath it so it won't feel embarrassed.

And another, which is a smaller version
of what I like, would require me
to get up and down too many times.

You think I am spoiled
or too set in my ways
or that I'm difficult
to live with,
and you're right.

But there are so few things
that fit me in this life.
I can count them on one hand,
things the spirit can sleep in
because whoever made them
put the things of this world--
vanity, greed, a sentimental wish
to be small again--aside.

I know, I could've found my cup
and washed it
and then I'd have my cup,
But it's not my cup I want.

My friend Nadine sent me this poignant poem in memory of Jack Myers, poet and mentor of poets. He was a faculty adviser for Vermont College's creative writing program. Jack died on November 29th. If you are interested in knowing more about him and his work, here is a link: (Sorry, it's not a live link due to a glitch at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Wreath to the Fish by Nancy Willard

Who is this fish, still wearing its wealth,
flat on my drainboard, dead asleep,
its suit of mail proof only against the stream?
What is it to live in a stream,
to dwell forever in a tunnel of cold,
never to leave your shining birthsuit,
never to spend your inheritance of thin coins?
And who is the stream, who lolls all day
in an unmade bed, living on nothing but weather,
singing, a little mad in the head,
opening her apron to shells, carcasses, crabs,
eyeglasses, the lines of fisherman begging for
news from the interior-oh, who are these lines
that link a big sky to a small stream
that go down for great things:
the cold muscle of the trout,
the shinning scrawl of the eel in a difficult passage,
hooked-but who is this hook, this cunning
and faithful fanatic who will not let go
but holds the false bait and the true worm alike
and tears the fish, yet gives it up to the basket
in which it will ride to the kitchen
of someone important, perhaps the Pope
who rejoices that his cook has found such a fish
and blesses it and eats it and rises, saying,
"Children, what is it to live in the stream,
day after day, and come at last to the table,
transfigured with spices and herbs,
a little martyr, a little miracle;
children, children, who is this fish?"

from Water Walker, 1989

Have you ever been in the presence of someone whose presence was a gift in itself? Nancy Willard is one of those presences for me. She is the magic of her writing.She was a guest author at Hollins University's Children Literature program in the summer of 2008, when I was there.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Kiss by Edith Nesbit

The snow is white on wood and wold,
The wind is in the firs,
So dead my heart is with the cold,
No pulse within it stirs,
Even to see your face, my dear,
Your face that was my sun;
There is no spring this bitter year,
And summer's dreams are done.

The snakes that lie about my heart
Are in their wintry sleep;
Their fangs no more deal sting and smart,
No more they curl and creep.
Love with the summer ceased to be;
The frost is firm and fast.
God keep the summer far from me,
And let the snakes' sleep last!

Touch of your hand could not suffice
To waken them once more;
Nor could the sunshine of your eyes
A ruined spring restore.
But ah-your lips! You know the rest:
The snows are summer rain,
My eyes are wet, and in my breast
The snakes' fangs meet again.

If You Forget Me by Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine

The Deserted Village (1770) by Oliver Goldsmith

An excerpt from the verse about the village schoolmaster (I have italicized my favorite lines!):

The village all declared how much he knew;
'Twas certain he could write and cipher too;
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,
And even the story ran that he could gauge.
In arguing too, the parson owned his skill,
For even though vanquished, he could argue still;
While words of learned length and thundering sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around,
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew.

This one is posted with a wink for my colleague and teacher Damon.

The Panic Bird by Robert Phillips

just flew inside my chest. Some
days it lights inside my brain,
but today it's in my bonehouse,
rattling ribs like a birdcage.

If I saw it coming, I'd fend it
off with machete or baseball bat.
Or grab its scrawny hackled neck,
wring it like a wet dishrag.

But it approaches from behind.
Too late I sense it at my back --
carrion, garbage, excrement.
Once inside me it preens, roosts,

vulture on a public utility pole.
Next it flaps, it cries, it glares,
it rages, it struts, it thrusts
its clacking beak into my liver,

my guts, my heart, rips off strips.
I fill with black blood, black bile.
This may last minutes or days.
Then it lifts sickle-shaped wings,

rises, is gone, leaving a residue --
foul breath, droppings, molted midnight
feathers. And life continues.
And then I'm prey to panic again.

Shared by my friend Tabatha.

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Epigram by Martial

Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare:
hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te.

There is a famous English translation of this couplet which you may recognize. It was produced ex tempore by Tom Brown, an undergraduate at Oxford in the 17th century who was such a slacker he was on the verge of being expelled. The Dean of Christ Church and Bishop of Oxford, John Fell, gave him one last chance at redemption: He challenged him to translate this epigram on the spot. Here's what Tom came up with:

I do not love thee, Dr. Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell.
But this alone I know full well,
I do not love thee, Dr. Fell.

Pretty good, hey? Tom wasn't expelled, but he dropped out later.

Here's a more literal translation, completely lacking in the charm of Tom Brown's:

I do not love you, Sabidius, nor can I say why;
I am only able to say this much, I do not love you.

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here,
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near,
Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake,
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep,
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

One of my friend Drew's favorite poems

Five Ways to Kill a Man by Edwin Brock

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it.
To do this properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.

Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.

Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.

In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation's scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.

These are, as I began, cumbersome ways to kill a man.
Simpler, direct, and much more neat is to see
that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

Mockingbirds by Mary Oliver

This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.
It is my favorite story--
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give

but their willingness
to be attentive--
but for this alone
the gods loved them

and blessed them--
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water

from a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,

and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down--
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning--
whatever it was I said

I would be doing--
I was standing
at the edge of the field--
I was hurrying

through my own soul,
opening its dark doors--
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

From White Pine

By George Herbert

Thou that has given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart, whose pulse may be thy praise.

Given to me by my friend Catherine.

Adore Te Devote by Thomas Lynch

Father Kenny taught me Latin hymns.
And, lost for words, I'd often chant Gregorian:
Adoro te devote, latens Dietas___
a second tongue, more humbly to adore them in,
those hidden deities: the bodies of women,
the bodies of men, their sufferings and passions,
the sacred mysteries of life and death
by which our sight and touch and taste are all deceived.
By hearing only safely we believe.
And so I listened and am still listening.
I've heard the prayers said over open graves
and heard the pleas of birth and lovemaking.
"O God! O God!" we always seem to say.
And God, God help us, answers "Wait and see."

Given to me by my friend Bruce.