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Happiness

When might happiness come to you? Does it come to everyone equally? It just might especially the way this poem frames that possibility. Read and enjoy.

Happiness                                                                                                      Jane Kenyon

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.

 

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How You See Depends on Where You Go

If you were a hot dog…

How You See Depends on Where You Go                                     Jynne Dilling Martin

 

If I were a hot dog, no way would I want to hang around

all week in the boiling water of a metal hot dog cart.

 

The dark would make me claustrophobic, the smell

must be pungent, and though we’d all pretend to be friends,

 

each time the sky split open and the aluminum tongs

came down everyone would hustle hoping to be chosen

 

and then be so pissed afterwards about life’s randomness

and inequality, since the dog selected would totally suck.

 

With nothing else to go on, we’d idiotically think

hot dogs were the only food and our cart the only cart

 

and our vendor the one who invented the light and dark.

We’d carve a fresco of our cart’s history on the metal

 

using a rusted knife that had fallen into our water.

We’d be such a joke to the ketchup and the mustard!

 

No, I’d rather be an eight-pack dog in the refrigeration aisle

of a grocery store, and not just anywhere in that pack,

 

but one of the four on bottom with a transparent plastic view

of the suburban shoppers. Then I could scan all the people

 

and feel quietly superior to the ugly and unhappy ones,

knowing my snug life at least is better than that.

 

Family Stories

Who can forget some of the times we saw anger expressed as a child? I come from a family that yelled at each other and at times there was brutal physical punishment. My husband comes from a family where, in particular, his mother punished with silence. His father covered everything with cheerful chatter. How people express anger is of interest to me. It is also exciting to me to imagine the the sight of the cake in the poem on it’s journey. See below! And to end with a question: How much do stereotypes of ethnicity influence how we express emotions?

Family Stories                                                                        Dorianne Laux

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,

how an argument once ended when his father

seized a lit birthday cake in both hands

and hurled it out a second-story window. That,

I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger

sent out across the sill, landing like a gift

to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine

it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,

and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed

the people in his stories really loved one another,

even when they yelled and shoved their feet

through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle

of cheap champagne, christening the wall,

rungs exploding from their holes.

I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury

of the passionate. He said it was a curse

being born Italian and Catholic and when he

looked from that window what he saw was the moment

rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous

three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship

down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk

deep in the icing, a few still burning.

 

The New Egypt

I often think about the things I must be doing without really thinking about whether it is what I want or not. That includes all the things I work at acquiring while following the insistent voice that screams “I want! I want!”

Whether we conform or rebel as we build our lives, we are part biological, cultural, and environmental beings subject to happenstance.

This lovely poem doesn’t waste a word, as a daughter tells her story. It’s packed full of punch and meaning. Enjoy it.

The New Egypt                                             Robin Becker

 

I think of my father who believes
A Jew can out-wit fate by owning land.
Slave to property now, I mow
and mow, my destiny the new Egypt.
From his father, the tailor, he learned not
to rent but to own; to borrow to buy.
To conform, I disguise myself and drag
the mower into the drive, where I ponder
the silky oil, the plastic casing, the choke.
From my father, I learned the dignity
of exile and the fire of acquisition,
not to live in places lightly, but to plant
the self like an orange tree in the desert
and irrigate, irrigate, irrigate.

Samhein

This is a strange poem to be posting as we haven’t yet gotten to the summer solstice, the longest day of our year. Samhein as you’ll see is well after summer. But, this was the poem I found when looking for something to explore, discuss, and write about healing. How do we help other’s heal and how much healing work do we have to do ourselves to be able to help another person? There is much in the greater world that is sore from today’s wounds and there are many in my small classes that need a salve as well.

Below, I include a quote and after the poem some notes are included as well. Don’t miss that the poem itself ends with some very apt words about death, relationships with mothers, and living with family.

The quote:

“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”                            Max de Pree

The poem:

Samhein                                                                                 Sylvia Bortin Patience

 

As days shorten and darkness lengthens,

we celebrate the seed under the earth,

a new year growing in winter’s womb,

the beginning and end of life

stirring in the dark.

 

The veil thins between the worlds,

those who died are welcomed home.

Rituals of water and mirrors

reflect the light of fires across the void

that separates living from dead.

Cailleach, the blue-black goddess,

begins her reign of wintry night.

 

I have placed my altar and my candles

in the western window as a guide

for my mother’s spirit journey home.

As she comes closer, I see she has lost

the trappings of her later years,

the walker and the wheelchair.

She moves lightly, a young woman,

dreaming down the beach in search of shells,

lilacs from Iowa in her hands.

Her blue eyes look far away within

where perhaps a poem even now begins.

 

I am unable to imagine

what she might say to me, or I to her.

The vision remains without a voice.

Even when we lived together,

it was hard for us to know each other.

I have no wish to interrupt her reverie.

For both of us, the poems are enough.

 

Notes:

Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year.

Cailleach (Gaelic pronunciation: kye-luhkh) is a divine hag, a creator deity and weather deity, and an ancestor deity.

Arabic Coffee

Rituals can seem simple in themselves, but as acts carried out over a period of time they become imbued with complexity and meaning. The sacredness of ordinary things lies within those layers. You don’t have to understand all of this poem to appreciate it’s beauty or appreciate some of it’s remarkable lines.

Arabic Coffee                                     Naomi Shihab Nye

 

It was never too strong for us:

make it blacker, Papa,

thick in the bottom,

tell again how the years will gather

in small white cups,

how luck lives in a spot of grounds.

 

Leaning over the stove, he let it

boil to the top, and down again.

Two times. No sugar in his pot.

And the place where men and women

break off from one another

was not present in that room.

The hundred disappointments,

fire swallowing olive-wood beads

at the warehouse, and the dreams

tucked like pocket handkerchiefs

into each day, took their places

on the table, near the half-empty

dish of corn. And none was

more important than the others,

and all were guests. When

he carried the tray into the room,

high and balanced in his hands,

it was an offering to all of them,

stay, be seated, follow the talk

wherever it goes. The coffee was

the center of the flower.

Like clothes on a line saying

You will live long enough to wear me,

a motion of faith. There is this,

and there is more.

Vim

Vim is a tough word standing on its own as we usually associate it alongside the word vigor. Vim and vigor as a team describe high spirit and energy. High energy and low energy people can appreciate the humor in this poem. I don’t believe the poet has nearly this much vim.

Vim                                                                                                     Mark Halliday

Some people just seem to exist, as opposed to live,
in a foggy drift. I am so glad that’s not me!

 

I am certainly so glad I have such thumping
zest for life. The way I dig into life
like a bowl of hot Texas chili with sour cream
and shredded sharp cheddar—I’m so glad

 

I have such a pulsing intuitive grasp
of how short and precious life is
and how we are impassioned clay
and each incredible diem is there to be carped

 

so therefore I skim speedingly over the waters of life
alert to every flick of fin
and super-ready to jab my osprey talons into
the flesh of whatever sensation swims my way
not fretting for a second about any other plump fish in the sea

 

and so for example when I see young couples
groobling moistly at each other’s burger-fed gamoofs
I certainly don’t waste my time with any type of envy,
I’m just like Yeah you kids go for it!—
Meanwhile I am going to listen to Let It Bleed LOUD
and totally rock out with all my teeth bared!

 

Man, it’s so great not to be the type who falls asleep watching baseball
and wakes up with Cherry Garcia on my shirt.
I figure I am at least as alive as Little Richard was in 1958
and it’s such a kick!

Does it get tiring?
Well, sure, occasionally,
but who cares? I embrace the fatigue,
I KISS it till it flips and becomes defiantly voracious vim

 

and when I read that line in Wallace Stevens
“being part is an exertion that declines”
I’m like What in heck is that old guy talking about?

Buddha’s Dogs

I enjoy this poem. I’ve experienced day long meditations and I relate to the dog metaphor and overall humor. Despite practice I don’t meditate well. I automatically look for interesting things or plans to think about and when I finally get to my breath, I’m quickly distracted. I have been chasing the same dogs around in my mind forever despite plans to weed out and eradicate circular and non productive thoughts permanently! My greatest comforts include knowing others’ dwell in the same human condition I do.

Buddha’s Dogs                                                                      Susan Browne

I’m at a day-long meditation retreat, eight hours of watching

my mind with my mind,

and I already fell asleep twice and nearly fell out of my chair,

and it’s not even noon yet.

In the morning session, I learned to count my thoughts, ten in

one minute, and the longest

was to leave and go to San Anselmo and shop, then find an

outdoor cafe and order a glass

of Sancerre, smoked trout with roasted potatoes and baby

carrots and a bowl of gazpacho.

But I stayed and learned to name my thoughts, so far they are:

wanting, wanting, wanting,

wanting, wanting, wanting, wanting, wanting, judgment,

sadness.  Don’t identify with your

thoughts, the teacher says, you are not your personality, not your

ego-identification,

then he bangs the gong for lunch.  Whoever, whatever I am is

given instruction

in the walking meditation and the eating meditation and walks

outside with the other

meditators, and we wobble across the lake like The Night of the

Living Dead.

I meditate slowly, falling over a few times because I kept my

foot in the air too long,

towards a bench, sit slowly down, and slowly eat my sandwich,

noticing the bread,

(sourdough), noticing the taste, (tuna, sourdough), noticing

the smell, (sourdough, tuna),

thanking the sourdough, the tuna, the ocean, the boat, the

fisherman, the field, the grain,

the farmer, the Saran Wrap that kept this food fresh for this

body made of food and desire

and the hope of getting through the rest of this day without

dying of boredom.

Sun then cloud then sun.  I notice a maple leaf on my sandwich.

It seems awfully large.

Slowly brushing it away, I feel so sad I can hardly stand it, so I

name my thoughts; they are:

sadness about my mother, judgment about my father, wanting

the child I never had.

I notice I’ve been chasing the same thoughts like dogs around

the same park most of my life,

notice the leaf tumbling gold to the grass.  The gong sounds,

and back in the hall.

I decide to try lying down meditation, and let myself sleep.  The

Buddha in my dream is me,

surrounded by dogs wagging their tails, licking my hands.

I wake up

for the forgiveness meditation, the teacher saying, never put

anyone out of your heart,

and the heart opens and knows it won’t last and will have to

open again and again,

chasing those dogs around and around in the sun then cloud

then sun.

Bra Shopping

This poem addresses an experience many women had when department stores and ritual reigned larger in our lives. We all approach puberty with a natural lack of experience which leaves us open us to all the good and bad of growing up. It is a fun poem in a lot of ways, but my favorite connection to it is the underlying theme of confinement. What woman cannot relate to that?

Bra Shopping                                                  Parneshia Jones

 

Saturday afternoon, Marshall Fields, 2nd floor, women’s lingerie please.

 

At sixteen I am a jeans and t-shirt wearing tomboy who can think of

a few million more places to be instead of in the department store

with my mother bra shopping.

 

Still growing accustomed to these two new welts

lashed on to me by puberty, getting bigger by the moment,

my mother looks at me and says:

While we’re here, we’ll get some new (larger) shirts for you too.

I resent her for taking me away from baseball fields,

horse play, and riding my bike.

 

We enter into no man’s, and I mean no man in sight land

where women fuss and shop all day for undergarments;

the lingerie department is a world of frilly lace, night gowns,

grandma panties, and support everything.

 

Mama takes me over to a wall covered with hundreds of white bras,

some with lace and little frills or doilies like party favors,

as if undergarments were a cause for celebration.

 

A few have these dainty ditsy bows in the middle.

That’s a nice accent don’t you think? Mama would say. Isn’t that cute?

Like this miniature bow in the middle will take

some of the attention away from what is really going on.

 

When Mama and I go brassiere shopping it never fails:

a short woman with an accent and glasses

attached to a chain around her neck who cares

way too much about undergarments comes up to us.

May I help you, dearies?

 

The bra woman assists my mother in finding the perfect bra

to, as my mother put it, hold me in the proper way. No bouncing please.

 

Working as a team plotting to ruin my entire day

with the bra fitting marathon, they conspire up about ten bras

in each hand which equal forty. Who’s making all these bras I want to ask.

 

What size is she? The bra woman asks.

You want something that will support them honey, looking at me with a wink.

My mother looks straight at my chest. Oh she’s good size. She’s out of that

training bra phase. I want her to have something that will hold them up proper.

 

Them, them, them they say.

Like they’re two midgets I keep strapped to my chest.

The whole time I stand there while these two women, one my own kin,

discuss the maintenance and storage of my two dependents.

 

The worst is yet to come, the dressing room.

I hate that damn dressing room, the mirrors waiting to laugh at me,

women running in and out half-naked with things showing

that I didn’t even see on my own body.

 

I stand there half-naked and pissed. Mama on one side,

the bra woman on the other, I feel like a rag doll under interrogation

as they begin fixing straps, poking me, raising me up, snapping the back,

underwire digging my breasts a grave.

 

The bras clamp down onto me, shaping my breasts out to pristine bullets,

with no movement, no pulse, no life, just sitting fix up

like my mother wanted real proper.

 

I will never forgive my mother for this, I keep thinking to myself.

Looking blank face at my reflection I start thinking about how my brothers

never have to shop for undergarments; why couldn’t I have been born a boy?

I hate undergarments.

 

Mama looks at my face. Don’t you like any of them?

No, I say. Mama I hate this, please can we go?

Then she goes into her lecture on becoming a woman

and being responsible for woman upkeep.

 

After we are halfway through the inventory

Mama looks at me wasting away in a sea of bras and takes pity on me.

All right, I think we have enough to last you for a while. Let’s check out.

 

I don’t get happy too quick ’cause I know that bra woman

still lurks about and if she senses my excitement that we are leaving

she will come with more white bras.

 

We make our way to the check out counter

and the bra woman rings us up.

Oh honey you picked out some beautiful bras, she says.

Just remember hand wash. How about bury, I want to ask.

 

She and my mother talk about how they are just right

and will do the trick for me with no bouncing at all.

My mother thanks her for torturing me and signals me

to thank her as well. I thank her all right, but I also add her to my secret hit list

of people who have made my life miserable in some way.

 

We walk out of the department as if walking out of hell.

My mother turns and looks at me. Now really, was that so bad?

 

 

Words, Wide Night

A great poem by Carol Ann Duffy. Is it possible to describe love with words? She gets close with imagery, motion, and emotion.

Words, Wide Night                                                   Carol Ann Duffy

 

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you

and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.