Deciding

Morning, and the river
gives up its cold.

Sit. Breathe. Each moment
its own kerning.

Listen for the breath behind a breath,
the river rivering.

Light angles down and through,
returning light,
green gesso of water.

The artist says on canvas, layers
of clear varnish allow luminosity—
Vermeer's bruised-pear light.

Everything's allowed
but now, you've learned
light has a price.

Only shade exposes ledge
and drop-off, what light hides.

A dry stone--blue dust, chalk.
It says stay.
A wet stone—black, unblinking lizard eye.
It says go.

Whatever you decide, this day will go.

One bird's song
can pull you from your breath.

Sit. Breathe.
There's kindness in the world,
small, silver, out of reach.

—Susan Elbe
First appeared in 88: A Journal of Contemporary American Poetry, Issue 6 (October 2006)

(image: John Paul Jenkins)

dive for dreams

dive for dreams

or a slogan may topple you

(trees are their roots

and wind is wind)

 

trust your heart

if the seas catch fire

(and live by love

though the stars walk backward)

 

honour the past

but welcome the future

(and dance your death

away at this wedding)

 

never mind a world

with its villains or heroes

(for god likes girls

and tomorrow and the earth)

 

-E.E Cummings-

 

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

-Derek Mahon-

Search the Darkness

Sit with your friends; don’t go back to sleep
Don’t sink like a fish to the bottom of the sea.

Life’s water flows from darkness.
Search the darkness don’t run from it.

Night travelers are full of light,
and you are, too; don’t leave this companionship.

Be a wakeful candle in a golden dish,
don’t slip into the dirt like quicksilver.

The moon appears for the night travelers,
be watchful when the moon is full.

-Rumi-

 

The Wind, One Brilliant Day

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

'In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I'd like all the odor of your roses.'

'I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.'

'Well then, I'll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.'

the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
'What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?' 

-Antonio Machado-

(image: 

Miniature paintings and Illuminations©Genève, Bibliothèque de Genève- Introduction à la Cabale, dédiée au roi François Ier)

Touched By An Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free. 

-Maya Angelou-

 

The Road not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

-Robert Frost-

Diving into the wreck

First having read the book of myths,

and loaded the camera,

and checked the edge of the knife-blade,

I put on

the body-armor of black rubber

the absurd flippers

the grave and awkward mask.

I am having to do this

not like Cousteau with his

assiduous team

aboard the sun-flooded schooner

but here alone.

 

There is a ladder.

The ladder is always there

hanging innocently

close to the side of the schooner.

We know what it is for,

we who have used it.

Otherwise

it is a piece of maritime floss

some sundry equipment.

 

I go down.

Rung after rung and still

the oxygen immerses me

the blue light

the clear atoms

of our human air.

I go down.

My flippers cripple me,

I crawl like an insect down the ladder

and there is no one

to tell me when the ocean

will begin.

 

First the air is blue and then

it is bluer and then green and then

black I am blacking out and yet

my mask is powerful

it pumps my blood with power

the sea is another story

the sea is not a question of power

I have to learn alone

to turn my body without force

in the deep element.

 

And now: it is easy to forget

what I came for

among so many who have always

lived here

swaying their crenellated fans

between the reefs

and besides

you breathe differently down here.

 

I came to explore the wreck.

The words are purposes.

The words are maps.

I came to see the damage that was done

and the treasures that prevail.

I stroke the beam of my lamp

slowly along the flank

of something more permanent

than fish or weed

 

the thing I came for:

the wreck and not the story of the wreck

the thing itself and not the myth

the drowned face always staring

toward the sun

the evidence of damage

worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty

the ribs of the disaster

curving their assertion

among the tentative haunters.

 

This is the place.

And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair

streams black, the merman in his armored body.

We circle silently

about the wreck

we dive into the hold.

I am she: I am he

 

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes

whose breasts still bear the stress

whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies

obscurely inside barrels

half-wedged and left to rot

we are the half-destroyed instruments

that once held to a course

the water-eaten log

the fouled compass

 

We are, I am, you are

by cowardice or courage

the one who find our way

back to this scene

carrying a knife, a camera

a book of myths

in which

our names do not appear.

 

-Adrienne Rich-

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

Image: Amida Gospels, Walters Art Museum, Ms W.541, fol. 6v 

Between going and staying

Between going and staying
the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.

All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can’t be touched.

Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.

Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.

The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theater of reflections.

I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.

The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause. 

-Otavio Paz-

image: Ottoman yataghan from the Court of Suleyman the Magnificent, 16th c, workshop of Ahmed Tekelü (possibly Iranian, active Istanbul, ca. 1520–30), detail view of the gold incrustation on the blade depicting combat between a dragon and a phoenix, Met Museum.

As once the winged energy of delight

As once the winged energy of delight 

carried you over childhood's dark abysses, 

now beyond your own life build the great 

arch of unimagined bridges. 

 

Wonders happen if we can succeed 

in passing through the harshest danger; 

but only in a bright and purely granted 

achievement can we realize the wonder. 

 

To work with Things in the indescribable 

relationship is not too hard for us; 

the pattern grows more intricate and subtle, 

and being swept along is not enough. 

 

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out 

until they span the chasm between two 

contradictions...For the god 

wants to know himself in you.

 

-Rainer Maria Rilke-

(image Luisa Sartori)

warrior's creed

I have no parents:

I make the heaven and earth my parents.

 

I have no home:

I make awareness my home.

 

I have no life and death:

I make the tides of breathing my life and death.

 

I have no divine powers:

I make honesty my divine power.

 

I have no means:

I make understanding my means.

 

I have no secrets:

I make character my secret.

 

I have no body:

I make endurance my body.

 

I have no eyes:

I make the flash of lightening my eyes.

 

I have no ears:

I make sensibility my ears.

 

I have no limbs:

I make promptness my limbs.

 

I have no strategy:

I make "unshadowed by thought" my strategy.

 

I have no design:

I make "seizing opportunity by the forelock" my design.

 

I have no miracles:

I make right action my miracle.

 

I have no principles:

I make adaptability to all circumstances my principle.

 

I have no tactics:

I make emptiness and fullness my tactics.

 

I have no talent:

I make ready wit my talent.

 

I have no friends:

I make my mind my friend.

 

I have no enemy:

I make carelessness my enemy.

 

I have no armor:

I make benevolence and righteousness my armor.

 

I have no castle:

I make immovable mind my castle.

 

I have no sword:

I make absence of self my sword.

 

-samurai's creed  14th century-

(image: Hilma af Klint)

I am Autumn out of Summer's Death

Running through my dark halls and bright courts

and high gates you will reach the place

and walk in,

right through the middle of my heart,

into green forests throbbing in endless night,

over white wastelands pressed in deep ice,

through blue mountains humped at every northern horizon,

following every yellow river running west,

down into subterranean gardens,

veined gold, silver, crystal,

packed with emeralds, rubies, diamonds,

down to learn the deepest laws and first designs.

 

It is the third turning

into the somber harvest moons

which scatters flowers, leaves and dust before the wind.

I am autumn out of summer's death,

world granary,

bottomless basket lined with rushes and feathers,

orchids, oranges, all ripe corn;

navel stalk stuck with thorns, teeth, beaks;

a cord twisted with pits and pods and broken shells;

big belly, threshed, sifted, ground: bread;

breasts bruised, crushed, strained: wine.

 

-Meinrad Craighead-

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you? 

Why are you beset with gloom? 

'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I'll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken? 

Bowed head and lowered eyes? 

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

 

Does my haughtiness offend you? 

Don't you take it awful hard

'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin' in my own back yard.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I'll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you? 

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs? 

 

Out of the huts of history's shame

I rise

Up from a past that's rooted in pain

I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise. 

 

-Maya Angelou-

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

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.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi-

The Century’s Decline

Our twentieth century was going to improve on the others.

It will never prove it now,

now that its years are numbered,

its gait is shaky,

its breath is short. 

 

Too many things have happened

that weren’t supposed to happen,

and what was supposed to come about

has not.

 

Happiness and spring, among other things,

were supposed to be getting closer.

 

Fear was expected to leave the mountains and valleys.

Truth was supposed to hit home 

before a lie.

 

A couple of problems weren’t going

to come up anymore:

hunger, for example,

and war, and so forth.

 

There was going to be respect

for helpless people’s helplessness,

trust, that kind of stuff.

 

Anyone who planned to enjoy the world

is now faced

with a hopeless task.

 

Stupidity isn’t funny.

Wisdom isn’t gay.

Hope

isn’t that young girl anymore,

et cetera, alas.

 

God was finally going to believe

in a man both good and strong,

but good and strong

are still two different men.

 

“How should we live?” someone asked me in a letter.

I had meant to ask him

the same question.

 

Again, and as ever,

as may be seen above,

the most pressing questions

are naïve ones.

-Wislawa Szymborska-

You Who Never Arrived

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-