Category Archives: poetry

“Blest be the God of love”*

The three best things that happened to me yesterday happened before 6:30am: 1) a line in a poem that wouldn’t come right seemed like it would; 2) I thought of a way to return to a writing project that I keep abandoning; and 3) my 4-year old son walked into the kitchen in his penguin pajamas with his armload of sleeping paraphenalia and said, “Hello there, my friend.”

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The Dangers of Self-Care

Last night I was on a panel about self-care, talking about therapeutic writing.  Luckily two other smart, insightful people with useful things to say were on the panel too, because the idea of self-care seems like a big load of nonsense to me. I like the idea of being kind to ourselves, but take a good look around folks, and ask yourselves if what we could all stand is a tad more self-regulation.

What I am against in particular about the marketing of “self-care” is that it always seems to involve flowers and bathing in candlelight.  The message is that, done properly, “self-care” is supposed to magically make you happier, calmer, more comfortable, and most importantly, a better person.

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“Just Take a Deep Breath and Do Nice Things”

Folks who’ve dropped by here before may recall references to my frequent bus riding companion. I love seeing her in the morning and in the evening and sometimes find myself smiling with so much relief that she’s just THERE. Like bookends to my day. This little human connection, odd as it sometimes is, adds so much.

Recently I heard about this super cool project called Humans of New York (HONY) that posts quotes and photos about everyday people in NYC. With over eight million followers on social media, HONY now provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers in New York City. It has also become a #1 NYT bestselling book. It’s such an amazing example of how connection feeds and nourishes us, and how belonging is like oxygen.

Wanting to belong, to feel connected can come out in such weird, trivial ways. I recently started using this Google Chrome extension called “Momentum” that you can personalize as your home page. It asks you what your main focus for the day is. It also says, “Good morning [insert your name here].” I personalized my page on my home tablet to say “Good morning sweetie!” and it’s absurd how happy this makes me feel. For my main focus of the day on my home machine I’ve been writing things like, “love everything about yourself today,” or just “love everything.” It’s a tiny act of self-love, supported by goofy technology.

So back to my bus friend. She was recently telling me about some work stressors, and usually I tune in and out because I’ve heard them all before, but part of me is always waiting for “the line.” The line is the thing that she’s going to say that suddenly shifts the conversation from a litany of complaints to something major, and worth taking in. Towards the end of her last description of irritants, she said, “So I decided that all I could really do was to just take a deep breath and do nice things.” And there it was. The line.

Just take a breath and do nice things. Of course. Of course. My own personally-delivered version of John Wesley’s famous wesleyadmonition. My hope for you is that you are on both the receiving and giving ends of this deeply lovely sentiment as often as possible. And as always, that you stop by to tell us about it.

Today’s poem is again by David Whyte. Note how he moves towards suggesting that what we truly need may very often be seeing the reflection of ourselves in the eyes of another; feeling our own bodies through another’s touch. Just our real, physical, tangible presence is all we need and all that’s required.

With love,

Leslie

Second Sight

Sometimes, you need the ocean light,
and colors you’ve never seen before
painted through an evening sky.

Sometimes you need your God
to be a simple invitation,
not a telling word of wisdom.

Sometimes you need only the first shyness
that comes from being shown things
far beyond your understanding,

so that you can fly and become free
by being still and by being still here.

And then there are times you need to be
brought to ground by touch
and touch alone.

To know those arms around you
and to make your home in the world.
just by being wanted.

To see those eyes looking back at you,
as eyes should see you at last,

seeing you, as you always wanted to be seen,
seeing you, as you yourself
had always wanted to see the world.

– David Whyte
from Pilgrim
©2012 Many Rivers Press

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Filed under belonging, connection, poetry, real life

To Live in This World

for Gabe at the start of his season

 

When he was about 7, Gabe said to me, in his odd, precise way, “Well, you aren’t often wrong.” He wouldn’t say that now. Just shy of 9, he’s seen many things go wrong. Yet there is a growing sense that some important things are being set right. Being made new, made whole. Leaves are falling, but there is also a harvest coming.

GabeGPP1

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“It was like, we were all okay. And that was nice.”

Hello friends, and happy change-of-seasons! A small story for you, and a hope that you will read and perhaps even write in to share your thoughts!

I ride the bus to work with a lady who has a very odd conversational style. She tells me long, tedious, repetitive stories, the subtexts of which are that she is easily overwhelmed by relatively simple things, like how to pay her Comcast bill (mail it and waste a stamp or drive it to the office?), or figuring out how to use the printer at work. Yet the sub-subtext is that she is really trying to stay positive in the face of these tasks, and to pass this positivity on to others.

suncloudsOften, in the middle of her long stories, she’ll pause and say something totally stunning and totally out of context. For example, we had been talking about some film she was having developed at Walgreens (does anyone actually do this anymore?), and she stopped, looked at me and said, “You are making exactly the right choices you need to be making for yourself at this moment.” I briefly wondered if her eyes were going to roll back in her head or if she would start speaking in tongues, but she just carried on with the film story.

Sometimes her messages aren’t as abrupt, but they still feel a bit like unexpected and useful rays of clarity. A few weeks ago, she was describing, in great detail, where she was going to have her new TV installed (by Comcast), and as we got off the bus to walk to our offices, she said, “Today is going to be a positive day and we will feel good about helping other people!”

Indeed.

A day or two ago, she was relating an experience involving an evening of Scrabble, a person with paranoia, and a disgruntled family member. Then she just stopped and said, “It was like, we were all okay. And…and that was…really nice.”

These odd semi-non-sequiturs are like small, clear bubbles of human truths that rise up from mundane narrations of everyday life, and I appreciate them each time. Yes, I could easily imagine how all of a sudden, in the midst of a game of Scrabble with some only questionably sane people, one might be struck by the feeling that, no matter what, we really are all okay. And not only is that feeling very nice; sometimes, it’s all you need to keep you going.

What small experiences cause you to pause and remember what matters to you? Strange, odd, funny, poignant, moving, simple…whatever they might be…what recent moments have given you perhaps just the briefest glimpse of something that felt real and important. I’d love it so if you cared to share!

In this spirit, today’s poem is by Mary Oliver, from her 2006 book, Thirst. This collection is something of a deviation from previous works, and definitely worth checking out if you’re a Mary Oliver lover. I hope you enjoy it, and, as always, I love hearing from you!

All love,

Leslie

Praying
by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

the last end of summer daisy on my walk to the bus stop

the last summer daisy on my morning walk to the bus stop

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God Is a Street Fighter. With Sharp Elbows.

Poetry, like God, does not dwell in the periphery of life. And like God, poetry is “a street-fighter, with sharp elbows” (David Whyte). Both poetry and a relationship with something greater than yourself demand awareness. And awareness is essential to staying alive.

90WoundednessSo when I ask, “When was God present in your life today?” it is an unsentimental question. I am asking you when you felt the shared woundedness of being alive and the rawness of connection, without which, we don’t have a chance.

Was it when you got into a cab, and the driver, a woman you know, said, “I apologize for being late. I lost my son. I mean, he died. I mean, he was shot and killed. Two weeks ago. And I just, you know, can’t wrap it around my head yet. So just bear with me.” Was it then, when you prayed for something–anything–to come in and fill the space around such a precious, agonizing, searing expression of human experience?

Was it in the persistent kindness of a friend, someone whose insistence on reaching you finally made it through your self-absorption and woke you up, again, to the awareness that our most disastrous fuck-ups and heartbreaking struggles are also the openings that allow us to be on the receiving end of extraordinary kindness?

Was it when you confessed some huge, complicated, emotionally overblown nonsense that had taken up residence in your head, and the friend who was listening looked directly at you and said, “Girl, that is some sick-ass shit you’re doing to yourself. Just stop it.”

wounded heart

When did God show up and make it possible for you to stay here, right here, today, awake and aware? And where do you need help with this? Is it in the phone call to a sick friend you’re afraid to make? Is it in all the small things that, when combined, make your state of mind become a state of mindlessness?

Ask for help. Ask for courage. Ask boldly, as a “child of the king.” Help comes, breathing space into the impossibly tight corners, the frozen lungs. And in your own inhaling and exhaling, you will help someone else remember to breathe.

Enough

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life/
We have refused
Again and again
Until now.

Until now.

by David Whtye

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Extravagant Promises

In what Alcoholics Anonymous folks call “The Big Book (1945),” there is a lovely passage about how life changes in recovery. These changes are referred to by AAs as “the promises.” One of the promises is that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.” You really don’t need to be an alcoholic to get a leg up on this.

Of “the promises,” The Big Book says, “Are these extravagant promises? We think not.” The purpose of this statement is to reassure people in recovery that recovery itself is not extravagant, i.e., not beyond the bounds of reason or of what is deserved. That it is possible.

But recovery is in fact extravagant, in the very best sense of the word. In the same sense that Sacha Scoblic uses the word “lush” to describe her sobriety (her pun very much intended). Any life not deadened by apathy or constrained by fear is lush, luscious, extravagant.

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The Endless Surprise of Kindnesses

For my exquisitely kind family and friends

Perhaps this is true of all poems–perhaps when you read a truly brilliant poem you realize that you didn’t really get it before. Or, more likely, good poems are like life–they reveal more the more that you experience. After all, it was Freud who said, “Wherever I have been, a poet has been there before me.”

I’ve used this poem–“Kindness”– by Naomi Shihab Nye before, but I understand it so differently now. Perhaps it’s a gift of compassion to myself that, instead of feeling stupid and thinking, “How could I not really get it before?” I let myself experience it more fully. For I believe with all my heart that poetry gives you all that the human heart and psyche can truly give, and the more open you are, the more you can take in. Sometimes, when that openness comes from being broken apart, love and light have more room to enter.

The truth is, I didn’t know until recently what the first lines of this poem really meant: “Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.”  I had no idea what she was talking about. People who’ve lost loved ones surely did; not me. I do now.

But I also didn’t know what the poet meant by her closing lines:

“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.”

But I do now. I do now. Thank you to everyone who has been so kind to me in the past few weeks.

Below is the full poem. With a heart full of gratitude.


Kindness

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

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Could it Really Be This Simple?

I found this Post-It in my son Jacob’s room and had to capture it on film. I asked him what you should do if the moment sucks, and he said, “Then live in some other moment.”

moment

my new motto

A clarion call of a poem today from Mary Oliver about living in other moments, other lives, going down new paths, reaching beyond what you can see. Yes, it really could be this simple.

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives —
tried
to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches
of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this
world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and
notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never
to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the
air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder
we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from
your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who
can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all
attentive to what presents itself
continually?
Who will behold the inner
chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer
stone?

Well, there is time left —
fields everywhere invite you into
them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from
wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on
your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass,
which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be
afraid!

To set one’s foot in the door of death, and be overcome
with
amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the
ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that
way, to the flowers of the
present hour,
to the song falling out of the
mockingbird’s pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have
opened

in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and
rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling
it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,

and the
opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little
sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild
roses:
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I
sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or tow of music, damp and rouge
red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery
bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark
shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing
in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what’s coming
next
is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a
while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
What
more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I
would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn’t ended
yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross
the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.

I climb, I
backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

–from West Wind

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Wise Young Voices: The Best Mother’s Day Gifts

In my quest to become more domestic (more on this soon), I’ve been scouring “Ladies Home Journal” and “Women’s Day.”  In one of these magazines (or perhaps it was “Real Simple”), I read about one mother’s approach to Mother’s Day, and though she was pretty vague on the details, the bottom line was this: she asked each of her 9 (or 12 or 15) kids to write (or draw) a message to her.  The confusing part of the article was that sometimes the messages related to Mother’s Day and some to her birthday, but never mind.  Nothing about motherhood is perfect. 

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