Thursday, May 30, 2019

Come I This Day


Come I this day to the Father,
Come I this day to the Son,
Come I this day to the Holy Spirit powerful;
Come I this day to with God,
Come I this day to with Christ
Come I with the Spirit of kindly balm.

God, and Spirit, and Jesus,
From the crown of my head
To the souls of my feet;
Come I with my reputation,
Come I with my testimony,
Come I to Thee, Jesu;
Jesu, shelter me.

-- anonymous, collected by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), folklorist among the Scots, and published in Carmina Gadelica (Hymns of the Gael) I.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace


At dawn the panther of the heavens peers over the edge of the world.
She hears the stars gossip with the sun, sees the moon washing her lean
darkness with water electrified by prayers. All over the world there are those
who can't sleep, those who never awaken.

My granddaughter sleeps on the breast of her mother with milk on
her mouth. A fly contemplates the sweetness of lactose.

Her father is wrapped in the blanket of nightmares. For safety he
approaches the red hills near Thoreau. They recognize him and sing for
him.

Her mother has business in the house of chaos. She is a prophet dis-
guised as a young mother who is looking for a job. She appears at the
door of my dreams and we put the house back together.

Panther watches as human and animal souls are lifted to the heavens by
rain clouds to partake of songs of beautiful thunder.

Others are led by deer and antelope in the wistful hours to the vil-
lages of their ancestors. There they eat cornmeal cooked with berries
that stain their lips with purple while the tree of life flickers in the sun.

It's October, though the season before dawn is always winter. On the
city streets of this desert town lit by chemical yellow travelers
search for home.

Some have been drinking and intimate with strangers. Others are
escapees from the night shift, sip lukewarm coffee, shift gears to the
other side of darkness.

One woman stops at a red light, turns over a worn tape to the last
chorus of a whispery blues. She has decided to live another day.

The stars take notice, as do the half-asleep flowers, prickly pear and
chinaberry tree who drink exhaust into their roots, into the earth.

She guns the light to home where her children are asleep and may
never know she ever left. That their fate took a turn in the land of
nightmares toward the sun may be untouchable knowledge.

It is a sweet sound.

The panther relative yawns and puts her head between her paws.
She dreams of the house of panthers and the seven steps to grace.

--Joy Harjo (1951- ), Muscogee (Creek) American, US Poet Laureate 2019- , from Th Woman Who Fell From the Sky: Poems, 1996.



Photo of panther (mountain lion) from the National Park Service.

Happiness


There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful hours
of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
      It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens
 to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.


-- Jane Kenyon (1947-1995), American poet and translator, from The Breath of Parted Lips: Voices From the Robert Frost Place

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Notes From the Other Side


I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching
one's own eye in the mirror,

there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course

no illness. Contrition
does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,

and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.

--Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) from Constance (1993)

Photo: Crypt in a Barcelona Cathedral

Prayer for Animals


We pray, Lord, for the humble beasts
who with us bear the burden and heat of the day,
giving their lives for the well-being of their countries,
and for the wild creatures,
whom You have made wise, strong, and beautiful;
we ask for them your great tenderness of heart,
for you have promised to save both man and beast,
and great is your loving-kindness,
O Savior of the world.

-- anonymous Russian prayer, from Canticles of the Earth: Celebrating the Presence of God in Nature

Heavy Summer Rain



The grasses in the field have toppled,
and in places it seems that a large, now
absent, animal must have passed the night.
The hay will right itself if the day

turns dry. I miss you steadily, painfully.
None of your blustering entrances
or exits, doors swinging wildly
on their hinges, or your huge unconscious
sighs when you read something sad,
like Henry Adams’s letters from Japan,
where he traveled after Clover died.

Everything blooming bows down in the rain:
white irises, red peonies; and the poppies
with their black and secret centers
lie shattered on the lawn.

--Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) American poet, from Collected Poems (2205)

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Dream of the Rood


Listen! The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
which came as a dream in middle-night,
after voice-bearers lay at rest.
It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
born aloft, wound round by light,                                                     5
brightest of beams. All was that beacon
sprinkled with gold. Gems stood
fair at earth’s corners; there likewise five
shone on the shoulder-span. All there beheld the Angel of God,
fair through predestiny. Indeed, that was no wicked one’s gallows, 10
but holy souls beheld it there,
men over earth, and all this great creation.
Wondrous that victory-beam – and I stained with sins,
with wounds of disgrace. I saw glory’s tree
honored with trappings, shining with joys,                                     15
decked with gold; gems had
wrapped that forest tree worthily round.
Yet through that gold I clearly perceived
old strife of wretches, when first it began
to bleed on its right side. With sorrows most troubled,                  20
I feared that fair sight. I saw that doom-beacon
turn trappings and hews: sometimes with water wet,
drenched with blood’s going; sometimes with jewels decked.
But lying there long while, I,
troubled, beheld the Healer’s tree,                                                  25
until I heard its fair voice.
Then best wood spoke these words:
“It was long since – I yet remember it –
that I was hewn at holt’s end,
moved from my stem. Strong fiends seized me there,                    30
worked me for spectacle; cursèd ones lifted me.
On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill;
fiends enough fastened me. Then saw I mankind’s Lord
come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord’s word                                       35
bend or break, when I saw earth’s
fields shake. All fiends
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped himself – he, God Almighty –
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,                     40
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.                                          45
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man’s side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill                                                         50
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,                                           55
King’s fall lamented. Christ was on rood.
But there eager ones came from afar
to that noble one. I beheld all that.
Sore was I with sorrows distressed, yet I bent to men’s hands,
with great zeal willing. They took there Almighty God,               60
lifted him from that grim torment. Those warriors abandoned me
standing all blood-drenched, all wounded with arrows.
They laid there the limb-weary one, stood at his body’s head;
beheld they there heaven’s Lord, and he himself rested there,
worn from that great strife. Then they worked him an earth-house, 65
men in the slayer’s sight carved it from bright stone,
set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song,
sad in the eventide, when they would go again
with grief from that great Lord. He rested there, with small company.
But we there lamenting a good while                                             70
stood in our places after the warrior’s cry
went up. Corpse grew cold,
fair life-dwelling. Then someone felled us
all to the earth. That was a dreadful fate!
Deep in a pit one delved us. Yet there Lord’s thanes,                    75
friends, learned of me,. . . . . . . . . . .
adorned me with silver and gold.
Now you may know, loved man of mine,
what I, work of baleful ones, have endured
of sore sorrows. Now has the time come                                        80
when they will honor me far and wide,
men over earth, and all this great creation,
will pray for themselves to this beacon. On me God’s son
suffered awhile. Therefore I, glorious now,
rise under heaven, and I may heal                                                  85
any of those who will reverence me.
Once I became hardest of torments,
most loathly to men, before I for them,
voice-bearers, life’s right way opened.
Indeed, Glory’s Prince, Heaven’s Protector,                                   90
honored me, then, over holm-wood.
Thus he his mother, Mary herself,
Almighty God, for all men,
also has honored over all woman-kind.
Now I command you, loved man of mine,                                     95
that you this seeing tell unto men;
discover with words that it is glory’s beam
which Almighty God suffered upon
for all mankind’s manifold sins
and for the ancient ill-deeds of Adam.                                          100
Death he tasted there, yet God rose again
by his great might, a help unto men.
He then rose to heaven. Again sets out hither
into this Middle-Earth, seeking mankind
on Doomsday, the Lord himself,                                                   105
Almighty God, and with him his angels,
when he will deem – he holds power of doom –
everyone here as he will have earned
\for himself earlier in this brief life.
Nor may there be any unafraid                                                      110
for the words that the Wielder speaks.
He asks before multitudes where that one is
who for God’s name would gladly taste
bitter death, as before he on beam did.
And they then are afraid, and few think                                        115
what they can to Christ’s question answer.
Nor need there then any be most afraid
who ere in his breast bears finest of beacons;
but through that rood shall each soul
from the earth-way enter the kingdom,                                         120
who with the Wielder thinks yet to dwell.”
I prayed then to that beam with blithe mind,
great zeal, where I alone was
with small company. My heart was
impelled on the forth-way, waited for in each                              125
longing-while. For me now life’s hope:
that I may seek that victory-beam
alone more often than all men,
honor it well. My desire for that
is much in mind, and my hope of protection                                130
reverts to the rood. I have not now many
strong friends on this earth; they forth hence
have departed from world’s joys, have sought themselves glory’s King;
they live now in heaven with the High-Father,
dwell still in glory, and I for myself expect                                  135
each of my days the time when the Lord’s rood,
which I here on earth formerly saw,
from this loaned life will fetch me away
and bring me then where is much bliss,
joy in the heavens, where the Lord’s folk                                     140
is seated at feast, where is bliss everlasting;
and set me then where I after may
dwell in glory, well with those saints
delights to enjoy. May he be friend to me
who here on earth earlier died                                                      145
on that gallows-tree for mankind’s sins.
He loosed us and life gave,
a heavenly home. Hope was renewed
with glory and gladness to those who there burning endured.
That Son was victory-fast in that great venture,                           150
with might and good-speed, when he with many,
vast host of souls, came to God’s kingdom,
One-Wielder Almighty: bliss to the angels
and all the saints – those who in heaven
dwelt long in glory – when their Wielder came,                          155
Almighty God, where his homeland was.

-- Anonymous Anglo- Saxon poem (perhaps Cynewulf); translation from Old English, 1982, Jonathan A. Glenn.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

[O sweet spontaneous


O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
the
doting

                   fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched
and poked

thee
,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
thy

        beauty        how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
gods
            (but
true

to the incomparable
couch of death thy
rhythmic
lover

                        thou answerest


them only with

                                   spring)

--e. e. cummings (1894-1962), American poet, from Tulips and Chimneys (1923)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

"Find Work"


I tie my Hat-- I crease my Shawl—
Life's little duties do—precisely
As the very least
Were infinite—to me—
—Emily Dickinson, #443

My mother’s mother, widowed very young
of her first love, and of that love’s first fruit,
moved through her father’s farm, her country tongue
and country heart anaesthetized and mute
with labor. So her kind was taught to do—
“Find work,” she would reply to every grief—
and her one dictum, whether false or true,
tolled heavy with her passionate belief.
Widowed again, with children, in her prime,
she spoke so little it was hard to bear
so much composure, such a truce with time
spent in the lifelong practice of despair.
But I recall her floors, scrubbed white as bone,
her dishes, and how painfully they shone.

-- Rhina P. Espaillat (1932- ), award-winning Domincan- American poet

Friday, May 17, 2019

It Is Not Always May


No hay pajaros en los nidos de antano.
-Spanish Proverb

The sun is bright,--the air is clear,
   The darting swallows soar and sing.
And from the stately elms I hear
   The bluebird prophesying Spring.
So blue yon winding river flows,
   It seems an outlet from the sky,
Where waiting till the west-wind blows,
   The freighted clouds at anchor lie.
All things are new;--the buds, the leaves,
   That gild the elm-tree's nodding crest,
And even the nest beneath the eaves;--
   There are no birds in last year's nest!
All things rejoice in youth and love,
   The fulness of their first delight!
And learn from the soft heavens above
   The melting tenderness of night.
Maiden, that read'st this simple rhyme,
   Enjoy thy youth, it will not stay;
Enjoy the fragrance of thy prime,
   For oh, it is not always May!
Enjoy the Spring of Love and Youth,
   To some good angel leave the rest;
For Time will teach thee soon the truth,
   There are no birds in last year's nest!

-Henry Wordsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), American poet and teacher, the most famous American poet of the 19th century

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Journey Prayer


God, bless to me this day,
God bless to me this night;
Bless, O bless, Thou God of grace,
Each day and hour of my life;
   Bless, O bless, Thou God of grace,
   Each day and hour of my life.

God, bless the pathway on which I go;
God, bless the earth that is beneath my sole;
Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
O God of gods, bless my rest and my repose;
   Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
   And bless, O God of gods, my repose.

-- St. Brendan the Voyager (484-577) Irish monk, whose feast day is May 16.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Servant Girl at Emmaus


(A Painting by Velázquez)

She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his—the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her? Had spoken as if to her?

Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he'd laid on the dying and made them well?

Surely that face—?

The man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had
seen this morning, alive?

Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don't recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching
         the winejug she's to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening,

swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

--Denise Levertov (1923–1997), Anglo-American poet

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Untitled


They took away what should have been my eyes,
(But I remembered Milton's Paradise).
They took away what should have been my ears,
(Beethoven came and wiped away my tears).
They took away what should have been my tongue,
(But I had talked with God when I was young).
He would not let them take away my soul —
Possessing that, I still possess the whole.

-- Helen Keller (1880–1968), American author, teacher, and public speaker

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Blessing of the Hands


Blessed be the works of your hands, O Holy One.
Blessed be these hands that have touched life.
Blessed be these hands that have nurtured creativity.
Blessed be these hands that have held pain.
Blessed be these hands that have embraced with passion.
Blessed be these hands that have tended gardens. 
Blessed be these hands that have closed in anger.
Blessed be these hands that have planted new seeds.
Blessed be these hands that have harvested ripe fields.
Blessed be these hands that have cleaned, washed, mopped, scrubbed.
Blessed be these hands that have become knotty with age.
Blessed be these hands that are wrinkled and scarred from doing justice.
Blessed be these hands that have reached out and been received.
Blessed be these hands that hold the promise of the future.
Blessed be the works of your hands, O Holy One.

-Diann Neu, from the book Earth Prayers

Friday, May 10, 2019

Praise the Rain


Praise the rain; the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—

Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—

Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we're led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.

-- Joy Harjo (1951- ), Native American (Muskogee/Creek) poet and musician

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Palm Sunday


Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus come

Break my resistance and make me your home.

-- Malcolm Guite (1957- ), Anglican priest, poet, musician, teacher, and songwriter.

Ah! Sunflower!

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

-- William Blake (1757-1827), English artist, poet, engraver and mystic

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

From The School of the Heart


The whole round world is not enough to fill
The heart's three corners, but it craveth still;
None but the Trinity, who made it, can
Suffice the vast triangulated heart of man.

Christopher Harvey (1597–1663), English poet

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Address to the Lord (I)


Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,
inimitable contriver,
endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from
the boring Moon,
thank you for such as it is my gift.

I have made up a morning prayer to you
containing with precision everything that most
matters.
'According to Thy will' the thing begins.
It took me off & on two days. It does not aim at
eloquence.

You have come to my rescue again & again
in my impassable, sometimes despairing years.
You have allowed my brilliant friends to
destroy themselves
and I am still here, severely damaged, but
functioning.

Unknowable, as I am unknown to my guinea
pigs:
How can I 'love' you?
I only as far as gratitude & awe
confidently & absolutely go.

I have no idea whether we live again.
It doesn't seem likely
from either the scientific or the philosophical
point of view
but certainly all things are possible to you,

and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection
appearances to Peter and
to Paul

as I believe I sit in this blue chair.
Only that may have been a special case
to establish their initiatory faith.

Whatever your end may be, accept my
amazement.
May I stand until death forever at attention
for any your least instruction or enlightenment.
I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master
of insight & beauty.


--John Berryman (1914–1972) 

Friday, May 3, 2019

I Lie Down This Night


I lie down this night with God,
And God will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with Christ,
And Christ will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with Spirit,
And the Spirit will lie down with me;
God and Christ and the Spirit
Be lying down with me.

-- anonymous, collected by Alexander Carmichael, folklorist, and published in Carmina Gadelica (Hymns of the Gael) III

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Swifts


Spring comes little, a little. All April it rains.
The new leaves stick in their fists; new ferns still fiddleheads.
But one day the swifts are back. Face to the sun like a child
You shout, 'The swifts are back!'

Sure enough, bolt nocks bow to carry one sky-scyther
Two hundred miles an hour across fullblown windfields.
Swereee swereee. Another. And another.
It's the cut air falling in shrieks on our chimneys and roofs.

The next day, a fleet of high crosses cruises in ether.
These are the air pilgrims, pilots of air rivers.
But a shift of wing, and they're earth-skimmers, daggers
Skilful in guiding the throw of themselves away from themselves.

Quick flutter, a scimitar upsweep, out of danger of touch, for
Earth is forbidden to them, water's forbidden to them,
All air and fire, little owlish ascetics, they outfly storms,
They rush to the pillars of altitude, the thermal fountains.

Here is a legend of swifts, a parable —
When the Great Raven bent over earth to create the birds,
The swifts were ungrateful. They were small muddy things
Like shoes, with long legs and short wings,

So they took themselves off to the mountains to sulk.
And they stayed there. 'Well,' said the Raven, after years of this,
'I will give you the sky. You can have the whole sky
On condition that you give up rest.'

'Yes, yes,' screamed the swifts, 'We abhor rest.
We detest the filth of growth, the sweat of sleep,
Soft nests in the wet fields, slimehold of worms.
Let us be free, be air!'

So the Raven took their legs and bound them into their bodies.
He bent their wings like boomerangs, honed them like knives.
He streamlined their feathers and stripped them of velvet.
Then he released them, Never to Return

Inscribed on their feet and wings. And so
We have swifts, though in reality, not parables but
Bolts in the world's need: swift
Swifts, not in punishment, not in ecstasy, simply

Sleepers over oceans in the mill of the world's breathing.
The grace to say they live in another firmament.
A way to say the miracle will not occur,
And watch the miracle.

-- Anne Stevenson (1933- ), Anglo-American poet


Image: Chimney swifts from the page of the Audobon Society of Portland, OR.