You must live with great seriousness

Dear readers,

Thank you kindly for joining me on this month’s journey in verse. It’s always a delight to share the words that have moved me over the past year–and to seek out new poets to introduce to you all. I hope you’ve encountered something along the way that resonated with you, and I very much hope you will keep reading poetry throughout the year.

April’s final poem comes from the incredible Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), who is considered the first modern Turkish poet. As I mentioned in this month’s introductory post, it is through reading poetry that I often rediscover what is worth celebrating and fighting for in this life, even on the darkest days. These stirring words from Hikmet speak not only to what is at stake in each of the poems I posted this month, but to what is at stake in every day of our lives. Here’s to learning to love this world, seriously and deeply and with every fiber of our beings.

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“On Living”

I

Living is no laughing matter:
    you must live with great seriousness
        like a squirrel, for example—
  I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
        I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
    you must take it seriously,
    so much so and to such a degree
  that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
    in your white coat and safety glasses,
    you can die for people—
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
    is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
  that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
  and not for your children, either,
  but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
  because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
                      from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
                      about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
                      for the latest newscast. . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
                  for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
                  we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
            but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
            about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                      before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                          I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
            we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
              and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
              I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
              in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                              if you’re going to say “I lived”. .

translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk

We destroy ourselves for splendor

I had the chills as soon as I started reading this devastating Tiana Clark poem from her collection, Equilibrium. 

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“A Blue Note for Father’s Day”

Because I don’t know where you are–
   I send you a letter of tree leaves

I heard this morning harmonizing
   like emerald waves above a pond.

I send you John Coltrane,
   who locked himself in a room of amethyst

for days with no food or mercy to write
   A Love Supreme

We destroy ourselves for splendor–
   emerging from the buried deep

like cicada song to mate & disappear again.
   Today, I will not be bitter

about this holiday or the Facebook posts.
   No, today I send you a roofless church,

a grotto with fuzzy moss & trickling water
   that sounds like wet piano keys.

Please know–I’ve made good with my life.
   With or without you, I know how to kneel

before imperfect men. I know this pond can carry
   cold morning skin like blue blue notes

pressed from warm saxophone buttons for:
   Acknowledgment, Resolutions, Pursuance, & Psalm.

Dear father, I hope you know that I can love
   the absence of a thing even more than

the thing itself. That I can have one day a year
   that doesn’t beat like the rest.

& friends, don’t ever wish to be me.
   You don’t want this sunless song.

There is no number in my phone to call
   There is no home with his face I remember,

just a place called Nowhere & this is where
   I find & lose him like a savior.

I believe in the cry that cuts into the melody

I can’t remember the path that led to me checking out Fast Animal by Tim Seibles (1955-) from the library a few weeks ago, but I’m so glad to now know his work, and this poem.

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“Blade, Unplugged”

It’s true: I almost never
smile, but that doesn’t mean

I’m not    in love: my heart
is that black violin
played slowly. You know that

moment late in the solo
when the voice
is so pure      you feel
the blood in it: the wound

between rage
and complete surrender. That’s
where I’m smiling. You just
can’t see it – the sound

bleeding perfectly
inside me. The first time
I killed a vampire     I was

sad: I mean
we were almost family.

But that’s
so many lives ago. I believe

in the cry that cuts
into the melody, the strings
calling back the forgotten world.

When I think of the madness
that has made me       and the midnight
I walk inside–all day long

When I think of that
one note that breaks
what’s left of what’s
human in me, man

I love       everything.