Poem of the Week, by Olav Hauge

IMG_1168Me to a roomful of high school students last week: “Raise a hand if you’ve lost someone you love to murder.”

Every hand went up.

Every hand. At least that’s how it looked to me, standing there. How do you make your way through something impossibly hard? That was the premise of our conversation, and the students took turns reading out loud from my novel What I Leave Behind, which is about exactly that. Impossible hardship is something these students are no strangers to. Institutionalized racism and sexism and poverty are all designed to keep a few people sitting pretty at the expense of so many, and one result is a roomful of children who have all watched loved ones die violently. 

I asked them how they coped. Some meditated. Some did yoga. Some cooked. Some listened to music. And every one of them seemed to make art: writing, painting, drawing, singing. They clearly understood the power of art, how you can use it to translate and transcend an impossible experience, push it out of you and at the same time absorb it. Art can keep you connected to others. These students are old souls, wise beyond their years. I got back to my hotel that night to find that a friend in Germany had sent me a poem that I’d forgotten, a poem I love. A poem that the minute I saw it felt like the poem to send in honor of these beautiful, powerful youth. We have to do better by them.

This Is the Dream, by Olav Hauge (translated by Robert Hedin and Robert Bly)

This is the dream we carry through the world
that something fantastic will happen
that it has to happen
that time will open by itself
that doors shall open by themselves
that the heart will find itself open
that mountain springs will jump up
that the dream will open by itself
that we one early morning
will slip into a harbor
that we have never known. 

For more information on Olav Hauge, please click here.


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Poem of the Week, by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

For more information about Maggie Smith, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Ada Limon

14100516_603168419863170_3525948158388452292_nMy dog is sleeping on the couch right now. We can read each other’s minds; before I get up from this table in a few minutes to go for a run, he will already have jumped down and trotted over to me, knowing I’m about to leave. When I return, he will be waiting at the door to greet me. He doesn’t wake up disturbed like me at the daily news, which even though I don’t watch television and  I avoid certain headlines, I know anyway. It’s in the air, in the invisible waves that connect us to each other and the world. It’s a battle not to give in to the disgust and despair and cynicism and snark that sometimes feels omnipresent and, weirdly, more socially acceptable than hope. Hope is harder, and so is the steadfast work that makes things better. The dog in this beautiful poem reminds me of my own dog. Not everything is bad, he says, in action if not words.

The Leash
     – Ada Limon

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

For more information on Ada Limon, please click here.