Poem of the Week, by Laura Hansen

Shack hammock (1)Long ago, when I taught Mandarin at a big city high school in Minneapolis, some of my students would stay after school and talk with me. One was a Hmong young man, quiet and shy, with halting English. He would sit in the chair by my desk and cast his glance at the floor. For a long time I would inwardly urge him to look at me —look at me look at me come on look me in the eye– and then it came to me that his avoiding my direct gaze was part of his culture, and a sign of respect. All my annoyance melted away and from then on I was more soft-spoken, gentle, and slow in his presence. 

The poem below makes me think of that long-ago student, and others too: The young man with OCD who sat in the chair next to me clicking and clicking and clicking his pen, asking How am I doing in this class? How am I doing in this class? How am I doing in this class?  and then I’m sorry I keep asking, I’m sorry I keep asking. Sometimes, if it felt right, I would put my hand over his as he clicked his pen. And when he apologized for his constant How am I doing in this class? I would say, No worries. Whenever you need to ask, ask, and I’ll tell you, which seemed like the right thing to do. 

Every time I read this poem, by the lovely Laura Hansen, I think of the unnoticed and unsung among us. The girl who taps her fingers up and down her legs, the child who calls up the MGM lion on Youtube over and over to watch him roar, the man who walks up and down my block with a flower in his pocket. We are not immortal, no, nor are we more sacred, but the sacred comes to us in our solitude. 

 

Sometimes I Pray that You Won’t Talk to Me, by Laura Hansen

Adrienne knew the wholeness of being alone,
as a plane rides lonely and level on its radio beam.

And, I admit, there are times when I wish
that you would walk on without saying hello.

I may be at a table at Arby’s, reading or staring,
and you may think that I am lonely, alone,

but I will be thinking my own thoughts
with no regard to how I look as I unwrap

my Jr. sandwich, slow-turning the pages
of the latest mystery I’ve been reading.

If you see me in the park, on a bench
or on a trail, know that I am not looking for you.

I will be waiting, like Mary O., for the trees
to reveal the yellow paint-splash of the warbler.

It will be dangerous to approach me, lost
as I am inside my own head. I may

mistake you for a honeybee. Or a tiger.
Conversation comes hard for the wanderer,

for the one born with silence always
clamoring for attention in our heads.

Our eyes hear more than voices,
our feet lead us away from your world.

We are not immortal, no, nor are we
more sacred, but the sacred comes to us

in our solitude, in the brush of tree bark
under our hands, in the soft way the sun

cups the star-studded Potentilla
in the fast food parking lot,

yes, even there.

 

 

​For more information on Laura Hansen, please check out her website.​

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Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Photos 223For years I’ve written haikus for people I don’t know. They send me a photo of someone and a few words about that person, along with $30, and I conjure up something about the person looking back at me from the photo. This takes some time. I want to get to something essential, something of this human being’s heart and soul. No one has ever sent me a photo of someone they don’t love dearly, and I respect that love and want the haiku to reflect it. Once it’s finished, I hand-letter the haiku on a piece of card stock and mail it back. All the proceeds go to support a school I’m involved with in Haiti. The photo/haiku/school forms an invisible triangle: 1) Me at my wooden desk gazing at 2) a photo of someone I don’t know in support of 3) both the sender and students, none of whom I’ve met in real life. You can’t order a poem like you order a taco, except sometimes you can. Poems are everywhere. Like the wondrous Ms. Nye says, what we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them.

 

Valentine for Ernest Mann, by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment 
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries 
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the off sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

 

​For more information on ​Naomi Shihab Nye, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 8.44.54 AMA few days ago at the store I stood in line, my groceries on the conveyor belt: butter, greens, an avocado, carrots and peppers and potatoes. The person behind me placed their items on the belt: two packages of ice cream sandwiches. About once a year I get a craving for an ice cream sandwich, and looking at the picture on the boxes made me want one. I turned to see who was buying them. She was middle-aged, with faded hair and a worn, tired face, wearing a jacket with a broken zipper. Hunched over. She’s been through some things, was the thought in my mind, and I waited for her to look up so I could smile at her and chat a little while we waited for the cashier. But she never did look up. And I thought of this poem, by the wondrous Dorianne Laux. So many people out there, all of us maybe, who have been through some things. Oh, the water.

 

Oh, The Water, by Dorianne Laux

You are the hero of this poem,
the one who leans into the night
and shoulders the stars, smoking
a cigarette you’ve sworn is your last
before reeling the children into bed.

Or you’re the last worker on the line,
lifting labeled crates onto the dock,
brown arms bare to the elbow,
your shirt smelling of seaweed and soap.

You’re the oldest daughter
of an exhausted mother, an inconsolable
father, sister to the stones thrown down
on your path. You’re the brother
who warms his own brother’s bottle,
whose arm falls asleep along the rail of his crib.

We’ve stood next to you in the checkout line,
watched you flip through tabloids or stare
at the TV Guide as if it were the moon,
your cart full of cereal, toothpaste, shampoo,
day-old bread, bags of gassed fruit,
frozen pizzas on sale for 2.99.

In the car you might slide in a tape, listen
to Van Morrison sing Oh, the water.
You stop at the light and hum along, alone.

When you slam the trunk in the driveway,
spilling the groceries, dropping your keys,
you’re someone’s love, their one brave hope;
and if they don’t run to greet you or help
with the load, they can hear you,
they know you’ve come home.

 
 
​For more information on Dorianne Laux, please ​check out her website.
 

Poem of the Week, by Hafiz

Excerpt from a small, vinyl, dark-blue diary I kept when I was in fifth grade: It’s weird but when you walk into a room of people you can feel the air. The air is a color and a texture that you can see and feel and it’s how people are feeling. But what’s really weird is you can change how they feel if you concentrate really hard.
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I believed this at ten, and I still believe it. Emotional energy is invisible, but it’s real, and with focus and intention, you can shift it. When we were in our twenties, my sister and I used to go to parties together. Sometimes those parties would feel flat and dull, not fun. My sister and I would look at each other and murmur social overdrive, social overdrive, and then throw ourselves into the scene with the goal of putting everyone at ease and making everyone feel connected and happy.

 

Before every class I teach, I silently breathe in and out and vow to meet the participants where they are, not where I am. With intuition and insight and deep intention, you can lift up another human being. Or a roomful of them, or a nation. The trick is channeling not anger and bitterness –no matter how despairing the situation–but love and kindness.  Something that Hafiz, who lived and died 700 years ago, knew well.

 

With That Moon Language, by Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them,
“Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;
otherwise, someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,
this great pull in us
to connect.
Why not become the one
who lives with a full moon in each eye
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world
is dying to hear?​

For more information about the Persian poet Hafiz, please click here.