Movers are here! (and a poem)

All my posts have been delivered from my old blog. My web past has been preserved.Thanks again to Matt Mullenweg and his man Otto who helped get my pathetic disheveled blog self into these new digs!

Now I need to decide what my blog future holds, what a blog means in the age of Facebook and daily hyper micro sharing. I need to decide what to unpack and what to store, what rooms to build out and what to leave bare with potential.

I do know that I never intend to quit using this place to collect my favorite poetry. I’ll set this one, freshly picked, down right here:

Nights

Kevin Hart

There’s nothing that I really want:
The stars tonight are rich and cold
Above my house that vaguely broods
Upon a path soon lost in dark.

My dinner plate is chipped all round
(It tells me that I’ve changed a lot);
My glass is cracked all down one side
(It shows there is a path for me).

My hands—I rest my head on them.
My eyes—I rest my mind on them.
There’s nothing that I really need
Before I set out on that path.

 

from Gettysburg Review
Volume 19, Number 3, Autumn 2006, page 470

Poem: Just One Elephant

Just One Elephant

scientists tell us that each second,
inside the sun,
4 million elephants worth of mass
are becoming light for us.
an irretrievable, one-time gift
in every moment.

the sun is giving itself away,
to the righteous and broken alike.
prodigious.
indiscriminate.
if this generosity were to cease,
we would cease too.

God gives himself away like the sun.
his abundance affords him a scandalous generosity.
to all of us, whether we care to receive him or not.

We are like soil,
groaning in the act of giving birth.
coaxing root and stem
to catch the light and love
that are our birthright,
knowing that we can only
catch and keep
a tiny bit of his provenance.

But confident that a tiny bit – just one elephant – is all we’ll ever need.

Common Poem

Oooh yeah, this guy’s way too scary for the White House. We all should feign outrage at the worst .05% of his writings so we can drive up his ratings and his street cred at the same time. Great plan. Or… we could simply read more than a few words of what he’s written.

“I woke up with the sunshine. A sunshine I had never seen. There was light at the end of it. Reminded me to forever dream. I was dreaming I walked into the White House. With love on my sleeve. And love for each and every one of you. Reminding you to believe. These are the words of a believer achiever. Leader of the globe, feed the souls of those in need. I bleed the blood of the struggle. Walking over troubled puddles. The hustle is in my chest. No hustle no progress. Extremities of life in this process. The birth of a son. The death of another. With love I caress both mothers. And told ‘em whose in control is the one that’s above is. I walk where money talks and love stutters. The body language of a nation. Going though changes. The young become dangerous. Spent into anger. Anger gets sent through the chamber. It’s tough when your own look like strangers. We are the sons of gangsters and stone rangers. If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us? Look at the picture. It’s hard not to blame us. But time forgives in the shy where the young die often. Do they end up in a coffin because we haven’t taught them? Is it what we talkin’, we really ain’t walking. Dudes, hustlers, paid. How much did it cost them? I find myself on the same corner that we lost them. Real talkin’ in their ear like a walkman. My thoughts been around the corner to the world. So when I see them I see my baby girl. The Lord lives among us. The youngest hunger, recover. Means to get it by anyways necessary under pressure. Children feeling lesser with the spill upon the dresser. Killer, willer aggressors. Destiny’s children, survivors, soldiers. In front of buildings their eyes look older. It’s hard to see blessings in a violent culture. Face against rappings. Sirens holsters – that ‘aint the way that Langston Hughes wrote us. So controllers on the shoulders of Moses. And Noah. We go from being precious to Oprah. Cultivated to overcome. Ever since we came over. Seize the day in the way that you can see the determined. The soul that keeps burning. Shorty’s know to keep learning. Lessons in my life are like stripes that we earning. I took Grant’s advice that Christ is returning. Like a thief in the night. I write for beacons of light. For those of us in dark alleys and park valleys. Street hits spark valleys of the conscience. Conquerors of a contest . Even the unseen know that God watches. For one King’s dream he was able to Barack us. One King’s dream he was able to Barack us. One King’s dream he was able to Barack us.”

So the dude is a liberal. That don’t make him a criminal.

Poem: Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper

I love this poem, any poem, which moves me to introspection about the connectedness evident in the daily objects and detritus of life.

At sixteen, I worked after high school hours
at a printing plant
that manufactured legal pads:
Yellow paper
stacked seven feet high
and leaning
as I slipped cardboard
between the pages,
then brushed red glue
up and down the stack.
No gloves: fingertips required
for the perfection of paper,
smoothing the exact rectangle.
Sluggish by 9 PM, the hands
would slide along suddenly sharp paper,
and gather slits thinner than the crevices
of the skin, hidden.
The glue would sting,
hands oozing
till both palms burned
at the punch clock.

Ten years later, in law school,
I knew that every legal pad
was glued with the sting of hidden cuts,
that every open law book
was a pair of hands
upturned and burning.

by Martín Espada, via Poetry 180

Poem: God Says Yes To Me

April is National Poetry Month and this is a good one. A little poetic license regarding The Almighty, but sweet nonetheless.

God Says Yes To Me
Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

Praying for Nothing

What if we were unable to be offended? What if we all refused to be righteously outraged?

What if the trolls of the world, desperate for our attention, any attention, received none? What if they jumped up and down, shouted vile words, burned piles of sacred cows, and potty-danced upon our hallowed monuments… and we did nothing?

Maybe just smile and go about our business. Yawn. What if we refused to feed the fire that many want, nay greedily need, to spread?

This weekend, especially this Saturday, I pray for the Power Of Nothing Happens.

Jesus spoke of this kind of thing. That “turn the other cheek” stuff was not about wimpy assignation, but of a NEW POWER and a NEW WORLD he wants us to see and complete with him. A NEW WORLD, a kingdom, you might say, that is created by the NEW POWER Jesus gives us to not get sucked in. To rise above our own self-righteousness and love in the face of hate.

Yeah, I know Jesus himself is popular, but his Gospel (accurately preached) rarely is. But I am praying that we supposed Christians will summon this New Power. The Power of Nothing Happens. If you see it, see through it and don’t feed it. Better yet don’t watch it. Don’t comment on its blog or click on its YouTube channel.

Deny all hate the oxygen that it needs to breathe. I think I wish to take a media fast this Saturday. That’s my response.

Aside from relaying this great poem:

The Power of Nothing Happens
What scares them most is
That NOTHING HAPPENS!
They are ready
For DISTURBANCES.
They have machine guns
And soldiers,
But this SMILING SILENCE
Is uncanny.
The business men
Don’t understand
That sort of weapon . . .
It is your SMILE
That is UPSETTING
Their reliance
On Artillery, brother!
It is the garbage wagons
That go along the street
Marked “EXEMPT
by STRIKE COMMITTEE.”
It is the milk stations
That are getting better daily,
and the three hundred
WAR Veterans of Labor
Handling the crowds
WITHOUT GUNS,
For these things speak
Of a NEW POWER
and a NEW WORLD
That they do not feel
At HOME in.

— Anise

Blessed and Idle

Seems like I have been spending a lot of time fiddling with gadgets lately. Game devices, mp3 players, laptops, all the info- and enter-tainment infrastructure of our household. There is much negotiation and wrangling over the newly-minted currency of who gets access to what screens in our family. These negotiations are complicated by the gadgets’ various states of operation and disrepair. Lots of fidgeting with cords, chargers, controllers, and other detritus which must be wrangled like wayward sheep. Every little gadget commands a debt of time and mental energy to keep it working and in or out of the proper hands at the proper time.

Fantasies of “unplugging” have been coming to me fairly frequently lately. Getting rid of cable TV. Mothballing some of my gadgets. Drastically reducing my footprint on social sites like Facebook, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite. I feel the lure of the latest unobtanium too. When the iPad came out I was all “Ooooohh, Shiny!” on the inside. And I have a fleeting bout of SmartPhone Envy about every other day.

But really I enjoyed Peter Bregman’s confession in Harvard Business Review — Why I Returned My iPad — and admired his honesty in front of what has to be the most plugged-in audiences in the world. I concur, Peter. I’m glad I did not get an iPhone or iPad or iAnything for my recent birthday. My life is such that I have very few “idle and blessed” moments too. The last thing I need is another gadget to fill the idle moments I do have. Even though I admit it is teh cool and sports mesmerizing blinkenlights.

I’ve talked about the useful, instructive nature of boredom before. And my kids roll their eyes when I tell them that boredom is good. I know it’s good to be unprogrammed and unplugged for a healthy dose each day. But I find, especially lately, that I am not taking my own prescriptions.

Poetry, reading, art, and useless idle writing (like the kind I’ve been doing a lot less lately on this site) are the casualties of my latest case of gadgetalia fixation. My feeling that I might be “missing something” if I unplug for even a day tempts me to profane the sacred idle moments my soul needs.

The antidote, for me, is Mary Oliver’s poetry and maybe a chance to be “blessed and idle” in adoration tonight.

From the Summers Day by Mary Oliver
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

So here’s wishing you (and me) a very healthy dose of boredom real soon.

Poetry is a little goat that followed me

Last day of National Poetry Month. I’ve been neglectful of it this year, especially considering how much I owe to it, how much my soul needs it.

I don’t exactly remember how I came to love poetry, how I decided to give it another try after it left me cold in school. Somehow I just wanted to like poetry. What I remember is going to the library and pulling down as many poetry books as my arms could carry, pretty much based on the spine of the book and a few names I could recognize. Then I’d sit down and filter through them, keeping the ten or twelve that caught my fancy and taking them home. Next visit I’d get ten or twelve more, including a few repeats. And so on.

And that’s how I came to know Cummings, Lorca, Oliver, Bukowski, Berry, Ciardi, Stevens, Simic, and a host of other new friends.

I knew I liked a poem by the feeling I had after I read it, not so much by what it said. One of my favorite poets is James Tate, precisely because he can leave me with a bemused smile after his poems even though I am not sure what I just read or what it meant. He lays out his playful absurdism in plain language and leaves me thinking “What the heck was that?!” but chuckling, gleefully disoriented. Don’t ask me to explain it to you. Just read.

It Happens Like This
by James Tate

I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.

Only poetry can do that — reach beyond the literalness of words and combine them to take you to an emotional place completely unexpected, even when you don’t understand.

Mercy Clothed In Light

Jane Kenyon died of leukemia in 1995. But she left us her voice in this poem, written late in her life, as if to reassure us. I came across this poem the other night in bed and it made me appreciate the gift of my own life and the gift of poets like Kenyon who share their lives, and sometimes their deaths, with us.

Notes from the Other Side

I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching
one’s own eye in the mirror,

there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course

no illness. Contrition
does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,

and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.

Jane Kenyon, 1943-1995

April is National Poetry Month. The world needs more poetry.

Lucille Clifton: 1936-2010

“Poetry saves in the way that lives are saved — from the inside out.” — Lucille Clifton

The poet Lucille Clifton died last Saturday. (hat tip to metafilter) She was a good one. Parents, we need to be raising poets to replace these great ones who keep passing. You may not read poetry yourself, but believe me, you don’t want to live in a world without it.

homage to my hips

by Lucille Clifton

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!