Today marks my 14th year of posting a daily poem during April in honor of National Poetry Month, and I’m very lucky that the wonderfully talented Kristina Closs will be collaborating with me again to illustrate the poems, a new tradition that now feels vital to this month’s tradition.
My first choice this month is by the Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha from his debut collection, Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear. I could fill this introduction with a litany of all the things that have caused me and so many of us intense heartache in this year alone, but I am choosing to begin this April with a small living reminder of hope, from Mosab’s hometown of Gaza to wherever you find yourself reading this today. Here’s to the roses among the ruins, and to the poems that help us see both.
A Rose Shoulders Up
Don’t ever be surprised to see a rose shoulder up among the ruins of the house: This is how we survived.
Here are two poems by the wonderful Ada Limón and Jane Hirshfield that I’m holding close to my heart as we enter a new year amidst a continually harrowing time, with shared heron imagery illustrated by my dear friend Kristina Closs. I’ve posted Ada’s poem before, but it’s become a touchstone for me over the years, and so I wanted to share it again.
Take care of yourselves, friends, and of each other. Here’s hoping for better days ahead and enduring reminders of the beauty that persists even in the darkest times.
Hope and Love by Jane Hirshfield
All winter the blue heron slept among the horses. I do not know the custom of herons, do not know if the solitary habit is their way, or if he listened for some missing one— not knowing even that was what he did— in the blowing sounds in the dark, I know that hope is the hardest love we carry. He slept with his long neck folded, like a letter put away.
The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road by Ada Limón
That we might walk out into the woods together, and afterwards make toast in our sock feet, still damp from the fern’s wet grasp, the spiky needles stuck to our legs, that’s all I wanted, the dog in the mix, jam sometimes, but not always. But somehow, I’ve stopped praising you. How the valley when you first see it—the small roads back to your youth—is so painfully pretty at first, then, after a month of black coffee, it’s just another place your bullish brain exists, bothered by itself and how hurtful human life can be. Isn’t that how it is? You wake up some days full of crow and shine, and then someone has put engine coolant in the medicine on another continent and not even crying helps cure the idea of purposeful poison. What kind of woman am I? What kind of man? I’m thinking of the way my stepdad got sober, how he never told us, just stopped drinking and sat for a long time in the low folding chair on the Bermuda grass reading and sometimes soaking up the sun like he was the story’s only subject. When he drove me to school, we decided it would be a good day, if we saw the blue heron in the algae-covered pond next to the road, so that if we didn’t see it, I’d be upset. Then, he began to lie. To tell me he’d seen it when he hadn’t, or to suppose that it had just taken off when we rounded the corner in the gray car that somehow still ran, and I would lie, too, for him. I’d say I saw it. Heard the whoosh of wings over us. That’s the real truth. What we told each other to help us through the day: the great blue heron was there, even when the pond dried up, or froze over; it was there because it had to be. Just now, I felt like I wanted to be alone for a long time, in a folding chair on the lawn with all my private agonies, but then I saw you and the way you’re hunching over your work like a puzzle, and I think even if I fail at everything, I still want to point out the heron like I was taught, still want to slow the car down to see the thing that makes it all better, the invisible gift, what we see when we stare long enough into nothing.
“Horses at Midnight Without a Moon” –by Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)
Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods. Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt. But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down but the angel flies up again taking us with her. The summer mornings begin inch by inch while we sleep, and walk with us later as long-legged beauty through the dirty streets. It is no surprise that danger and suffering surround us. What astonishes is the singing. We know the horses are there in the dark meadow because we can smell them, can hear them breathing. Our spirit persists like a man struggling through the frozen valley who suddenly smells flowers and realizes the snow is melting out of sight on top of the mountain, knows that spring has begun.