This poem by Jennifer Chang is what recently led me to her lovely new collection, Some Say the Lark, which I’m very much enjoying now.
“Freedom in Ohio”
on my birthday
I want a future
out of figs and accidents.
Or a future quieter
than snow. The leopards
stake out the backyard
and will flee at noon.
My terror is not secret,
as the wild must be,
as Sandhill cranes must
thread the meadow
yet again. Thus, autumn
cautions the cold
and the wild never want
to be wild. So what
to do about the thrum
of my thinking, the dangerous
pawing at the door?
Yesterday has no harmony
with today. I bought
a wool blanket, now shredded
in the yard. I abided by
dwelling, thought nothing
of now. And now?
I’m leopard and crane,
A striking flash of verse by the acclaimed Serbian poet Radmila Lazic (1949-).
I sharpened knives
To welcome you
In the brilliance of their blades,
And among them,
My love sparkles
For your eyes only.
Translated by Charles Simic
The poem I carry in my pocket today has been a touchstone for years, as has the poet, the wonderful Arab-American writer Naomi Shihab Nye. May we all cultivate and encounter kindness in this life so threaded with sorrow.
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 gaze at 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.
To all my lovely readers, friends, and random stumblers-upon,
Have you mostly been sitting behind a screen this month, scrolling through poems in isolation and then moving on with your day? Do your friends not know you actually like poetry? Has one line of verse been haunting, confusing, or delighting you for weeks?
How about you invite others to share in that experience with you for a day? Please join me tomorrow, Tuesday April 24, in celebrating one of my favorite not-actual-but-should-be-official holidays, Poem in Your Pocket Day.
The “rules” of celebrating this day are pretty simple. Put a poem in your pocket. You got that part already. Now you can’t just let it fester there all day. Read it to a friend over lunch, startle your coworkers at a meeting, recite one to your partner before bed. Or if you’d rather share quietly, slip some verse into the pocket of a loved one, leave one at a cafe table, or print out dozens of poems, as I’ve down for years, and plaster them all over your residence, your office… you get the point here. You’d be surprised how grateful people will be when they encounter these gifts of words you’ve left behind.
And, if you are so inclined, please comment with the poems you decide to share. My pockets are ready to be filled.*
(* This is the same text I’ve used the past few years. Apologies for taking this blogging shortcut, but I figured there was no point reinventing the wheel on this!)
My copy of the new chapbook TUNSIYA/AMRIKIYA by the Tunisian-American poet Leila Chatti (1990-) arrived just in time for the weekend, and it was so hard to choose just one from this stunning collection.
“Night Lament in Hergla”
This is what the fearful do:
when a burning star torments them, they go to the sea.
There is no world in which I am not haunted,
no willing God to relinquish me.
My mother taught me death comes
wailing from the shadows, my father
all ghosts exist in smoke. I search
the sky for light long extinguished,
make wishes on their bright graves.
In the dark I try every language you might
recognize but nothing calls you back;
the words hang in the air, their own
brief phantoms. The ocean offers
no solace; I stand at its black edge
as it retreats, draws close, backs away again.
Like this, your memory wavers
in the threshold. How many nights
your name appeared on my lips
like an incantation, how many times
you’ve arrived in a dream pale
as prayer at dawn–your absence
burns its hole through my waking.
I stalk the shores of your sleep,
which allow no entry. The moon
reveals nothing of heaven, a brined window.
You are gone, in this country and all others.
In honor of Earth Day, I’m sharing a poem by the amazing writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry (1934-) that many of you are probably familiar with but can never be read too much. And if you’re jonesin’ for some more Earth Day verse, here are the Walt Whitman poems I usually post.
“The Peace of Wild Things”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s 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.
A spare yet intricate poem from Mark Strand (1934-2014) that has been open in one of my browser tabs for weeks…
Lie down on the bright hill
with the moon’s hand on your cheek,
your flesh deep in the white folds of your dress,
and you will not hear the passionate mole
extending the length of his darkness,
or the owl arranging all of the night,
which is his wisdom, or the poem
filling your pillow with its blue feathers.
But if you step out of your dress and move into the shade,
the mole will find you, so will the owl, and so will the poem,
and you will fall into another darkness, one you will find
yourself making and remaking until it is perfect.