Thank you for joining me for another National Poetry Month. I hope you’ve enjoyed the last four weeks of verse–and I hope even more that you continue to seek out poetry all year long. For now, I will close with this selection from the magnificent writer, activist, and farmer Wendell Berry (1934-).
from Sabbaths 1998
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,
This is the time you’d like to stay.
Not a leaf stirs. There is no sound.
The fireflies lift light from the ground.
You’ve shed the vanities of when
And how and why, for now. And then
The phone rings. You are called away.
Early in the morning, walking
in a garden in Vancouver
three thousand miles from your grave,
the sky dripping, song
sparrows singing in the borders,
I come suddenly upon
a Japanese dogwood, a tree
you loved, bowed down with bloom.
By what blessedness do I weep?
The woods and pastures are joyous
in their abundance now
in a season of warmth and much rain.
We walk amidst foliage, amidst
song. The sheep and cattle graze
like souls and bliss (except for flies)
and lie down satisfied. Who now
can believe in winter? In winter
who could have hoped for this?
I never grow tired of Jane Hirshfield (1953-) and her clear, calming verse.
“Stone and Knife”
One angle blunts, another sharpens
Loss also: stone & knife
Some griefs augment the heart,
rooms unwalked in,
these losses are small.
Others cannot be described at all.
This Franz Wright (1953-) poem renders me speechless.
“Did This Ever Happen to You”
A marble-colored cloud
engulfed the sun and stalled,
a skinny squirrel limped toward me
as I crossed the empty park
and froze, the last
or next to last
fall leaf fell but before it touched
the earth, with shocking clarity
I heard my mother’s voice
pronounce my name. And in an instant I passed
beyond sorrow and terror, and was carried up
into the imageless
I came from
and am. Nobody’s
stronger than forgiveness.
An anthology of Fanny Howe (1940-) selected poems has been quietly haunting me for months. Here is just one of the many gems.
You travel a path on paper
and discover you’re in a city
you only thought about before.
It’s a Sunday marketplace. Parakeets and finches
are placed on the stones
and poppies in transparent wrapping.
How can you be where you never were?
And how can you find the way–with your mind
your only measure?
Today Louise Erdrich (1954-) makes us reconsider for a moment the never-ending list of little things we worry about each day.
“Advice to Myself”
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.
Plumb the depths of language with the Somali-American poet Ladan Osman.
“Words We Lost in the Water”
If Somali hail fell from the sky, it would be cardamom.
Sidewalks would release its scent under our heels, we would fill
burlap bags with it, odd grains of rice mingling in our tea.
There my father is the Lion of God
and not a man who talks about position,
not a man who remembers position.
There, lips smile for love
and hope sounds like the English need:
don’t piss on my need, we say.
Trouble falls, a rock
down the narrow well of the throat.
Chest and bullet are twins
separated by a handsome jaw, a beauty mark.
There my brother is Victorious
and not the odd grain in the sieve of my father’s heart.
Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day. Since I can’t unfurl this from my pocket and read it to each of you, here’s the radiant Paul Celan (1920-1970) poem I’m carrying close today.
over the grayblack wasteness.
strikes the light-tone: there are
still songs to sing beyond