Poem of the Week, by Galway Kinnell

IMG_6637Yesterday I was walking along the beach thinking, once again, about the idea of not being afraid to die. I hear people say this a lot: “I’m not afraid of death.” Whenever I hear this, I feel a combination of shame and bewilderment, because I am completely afraid of death, and if all these other people aren’t afraid of it, then what am I missing and where am I falling short? The surfers were out on the waves and I stopped to admire them the way I always do. Sleek black bodies springing up on their boards, riding the foam into shore. Watching them, it came to me that I was confusing a fear of death with a fear of not being alive. They are two separate things, and I don’t want to not be alive. What I want is more life. More love. More laughter. More surfers. More more more. And then this poem by Galway Kinnell, who died a few years ago and whose poetry I have loved all my life, came singing its way into my head. 


Prayer, by Galway Kinnell

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.



For more information on Galway Kinnell, please click here.

Public radio interview

Poetry hut, flowersFor anyone interested, here is the link to the public radio interview I did this morning. The thoughtful and talented Kerri Miller and I talked about poetry, my poetry hut (pictured to the left there), teaching, writing, the making of Firefly Hollow, the inner lives of children (and grownups), what it means to be a lifelong adventurer, the freedom that comes when you stop caring what others think of you in favor of resting with your own intentions, how the death of someone you loved when you were young affects you then and forever, how a book can momentarily take the poverty and pain out of a child’s life, a novel I feared and hated as a teenager but never forgot, the enormous usefulness of waiting instead of acting, Galway Kinnell, teaching at my beloved Metropolitan State University, school bus bullies, and a whole bunch of other things.

Poem of the Week, by Galway Kinnell

Blue man group rejectA few years ago one of my favorite people and I were having dinner on the rooftop patio of a restaurant, wine for her, a gimlet for me, both of us chattering away. At one point our conversation touched on the topic of suicide, something we both had experience with, and I remember her saying that no matter awful life could be and had been, something in her always wanted to hang around if only to see “what would happen next, ” that even at its worst, life was fundamentally interesting. I told her that my best advice to myself is usually “Wait.” I read this poem today and thought of that night, and my friend. “Trust the hours.”


– Galway Kinnell

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.


For more information about Galway Kinnell, please click here.

My Facebook page.

Poem of the Week, by Galway Kinnell

The other day in my poetry hut, where people sometimes leave little poems as well as taking them away, I found this tiny poem penned out on a piece of scrap paper. Galway Kinnell, who died last year, was one of my favorite poets; I always sort of had a crush on him, based solely on his photo and a few of his poems. The poem below fits my definition of a prayer. Also, how often do you get to say the word “is” three times in a row?


Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

For more information on Galway Kinnell, please click here: here.
My blog.
My Facebook page.

Poem of the Week, by Galway Kinnell

St. Francis and the Sow
– Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

For more information on Galway Kinnell, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/galway-kinnell

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Kathi and April are both doing it, so why shouldn't she?

clam-man-sylvan-beach1She copies her friends and decides to write a poemish thing a day for a month. After all, if they told her to jump off a bridge, sure, she would jump off a bridge. Why not?

Good Lord,  I’ve got to write a poemish thing, she tells her daughter. They are sitting in a semi-grimy motel room on Day Four of a 1500-mile road trip. It’s check-out time.

Like right now, she says to her daughter. Quick, give me a topic.

Fruit! says the daughter.

Fruit? Too general. Too broad. Despite the fact that for some reason all she can picture is Minnie Pearl in a fruit hat with the price tag dangling off.

Give me a specific fruit, she says to her daughter.


Her daughter sounds so sprightly. Fruit! Apple! That’s what happens when you’re a child, packed and ready to go and eating a pre-packaged sweet roll of indeterminate age while watching morning television in a semi-grimy motel  room. You become sprightly.

Sprightly or not,  the daughter said apple and apple it shall be.

Apple. What can possibly be poemized about an apple that won’t make her weep with cliche?

Eve ate one and all the trouble began: the new clothes, the shame, the forcible exit from the garden. But was  it so great in that garden, really? The whole idea always strikes her as the equivalent of the white clouds and harps and halos in the New Yorker cartoon heavens, those blah middle-aged paunchy angels peering down at the lost world below.

* * *


Is it fun, with all that peace up there? Do you look down on us, you who used to be us, down here amongst the grit and the grime, you who no longer eat anything, let alone apples, peering down from your clouds on we who do, and shake your heads knowingly, glad to be done with it all and safe up on your clouds?

Or do you wish you were still here? Do you secretly wish you could trade places with, say, me, still eating apples, like this one, warm in my hand from a tree warmed by September sunshine?

I would, if I were you. Look at this apple, and look at me eating it. Look at me, with this crunch and this color and this flavor flooding my mouth.

Give me dirt. Give me tears, and a throat sore from crying. Give me laughter that makes my stomach hurt. Give me sex. Give me this wide brown churning river outside this grimy hotel window. Give me these muscles and bone and blood still dripping from this cut thumb. Give me a mountain that makes my legs ache. Give me this beating heart that hurts in a thousand ways. Give me this child, that man, this dog and the sun glinting off that hurrying river.

Give me fear,  and give me wonder.

Keep your clouds and your harps and your halos,  poor sad jealous angels peering down from your whiteness, and give me this world, this enormous world with its dirt, and its bruises, and its worms, yeah, I’ll take them too.

* * *