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.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Ada Limón (1976-). Many of you have probably received this wonderful and necessary poem via text or in a handwritten note from me in the last few years–now I want to share it with all of you!
“How to Triumph Like a Girl”
I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to tug my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.
from Bright Dead Things
In the spirit of resurrecting some of my favorite poems from the last 10 years–and in the spirit of posting more hopeful work–here’s a gorgeous prose poem from the great Swedish poet and Nobel Laureate Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015).
I inherited a dark wood to which I seldom go. But a day will come when the dead and the living change places. Then the wood will begin to stir. We are not without hope. The most serious crimes remain unsolved despite the efforts of many policeman. In the same way there exists, somewhere in our lives, a great love, unsolved. I inherited a dark wood but today I am going into another wood, the bright one. Every living thing that sings, wriggles, oscillates, and crawls! It is spring and the air is very strong. I have a degree from oblivion’s university and am empty-handed as the shirt on the clothesline.
Today I am thinking of transformations–and of this beloved poem I shared awhile back from the brilliant Lucille Clifton (1936-2010), who I had the honor of hearing read years ago when I was an undergraduate.
we will wear
new bones again.
we will leave
these rainy days,
break out through
into sun and honey time.
worlds buzz over us like bees,
we be splendid in new bones.
other people think they know
how long life is.
how strong life is.