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.

Poem of the Week, by John Ashbery

img_5354Growing up in the age of Darwinian elementary schools –the gym teacher would choose the two best athletes to captain every team, and one by one they would pick off first the good athletes, then the midlings, then the uncoordinated, until finally there was only one child remaining, huddled against the wall– I hated gym class. Not because I was bad at sports (I’m not) but because I can’t stand cruelty. And that little ritual was fundamentally cruel.

I don’t see the point of competition unless you’re competing with yourself, trying to get better at something you value, something you love. All the years I sat on bleachers cheering on my children, it was an effort to remember that I was supposed to cheer for their team and not any random child on the field who made a great goal, who ran fast, who helped lift up another player. There were times when the other parents glared at me because in my absentmindedness/idiocy I would cheer for the opposing team.

I still don’t like team sports. What I don’t like about them is exactly what I despise in my country today, which is the idea that there are winners and losers, and winning is what matters. What is happening in my country right now is so far beyond right vs. left. What is happening right now is wrong, and on some level, every single one of us knows it. No matter how you spin it, there is no excuse –not one, ever– to torture children and their families. Democracy is crumbling and fascism is rising and the elected officials who should stop it, who should call out injustice and hold abusers accountable, are silent despite our protests. This poem starts out sweet and ends up terrifying, and boy does it feel familiar. It doesn’t end this way, but I would like it too: We are all one here, and if one of us goes the other goes too. 

 

 

How to Continue, by John Ashbery

Oh there once was a woman 
and she kept a shop 
selling trinkets to tourists 
not far from a dock 
who came to see what life could be 
far back on the island. 

And it was always a party there 
always different but very nice 
New friends to give you advice 
or fall in love with you which is nice 
and each grew so perfectly from the other 
it was a marvel of poetry 
and irony 

And in this unsafe quarter 
much was scary and dirty 
but no one seemed to mind 
very much 
the parties went on from house to house 
There were friends and lovers galore 
all around the store 
There was moonshine in winter 
and starshine in summer 
and everybody was happy to have discovered 
what they discovered 

And then one day the ship sailed away 
There were no more dreamers just sleepers 
in heavy attitudes on the dock 
moving as if they knew how 
among the trinkets and the souvenirs 
the random shops of modern furniture 
and a gale came and said 
it is time to take all of you away 
from the tops of the trees to the little houses 
on little paths so startled 

And when it became time to go 
they none of them would leave without the other 
for they said we are all one here 
and if one of us goes the other will not go 
and the wind whispered it to the stars 
the people all got up to go 
and looked back on love

 

For more information on John Ashbery, please click here.
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Poem of the Week, by Madeleine L’Engle

img_6107“It was a time like this. . . when all things fall apart.”

Once, long ago, I sat in the office of someone I was paying to listen to me and told her, crying and crying, all the ways that my life had fallen apart. The room felt close and narrow and so did the horizons of my world. Everything is broken, I said. I broke everything.

She listened and listened and then, unlike most people paid to listen, she sat up straight and leaned forward and fixed me with fierce eyes. And when you break something, like a bowl, what do you do? she said. You glue it back together or you go out and get a new one. This is your responsibility: to build a new life, and now. Not to sit around and cry. Get out there and get going.

Things are always falling apart. And it is always our responsibility to build them back up. So keep the faith, friends, keep the faith. Here’s to the coming new year. 

 

Into the Darkest Hour

            – Madeleine L’Engle 

It was a time like this,
war & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss –
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was a time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight –
and yet the Prince of bliss came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is:
with no room on the earth,
the stable is our heart.

​For more information on Madeleine L’Engle, please ​click here.

 

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Poem of the Week, by Elizabeth Alexander

IMG_4305A house I used to live in was filled with a dark and ominous energy that I felt every time I approached the front door. When I dreamed, dark birds hovered silently in the air around me, landing on my shoulders and head. The dark birds wanted me — they wanted me dead. I lived in a state of permanent exhaustion, surrounded by the forces of darkness. 

Two choices: I could sell the house or I could fight. Fighting was worth a shot. One sunny day, I dragged my furniture outside and set it on the walkway. I hauled out the rugs and beat them with a stick. I filled a bucket with hot water and soap, scrubbed the furniture, opened up the doors and windows and went back inside and scrubbed the walls and counters and cabinets. 

The darkness began to lift, but it wasn’t enough. So I ran around windmilling my arms and yelling at the dark birds to Go away, get the hell out of here, fuck you, you will not suck me down. Then I blasted music and kept cleaning and concentrated my inward energy on driving the invisible birds away. When I returned in the morning, everything was different. The forces of darkness had been driven away. 

This is a true story. I was close to losing my life. But all it took to drive out the darkness was me, standing up to it with soap and water and sunlight and resolve. Dark energy is at work right now in this country. When you wake in the night from apocalyptic dreams, when you wake in the morning terrified of what the news will bring, that’s the virus seeking entry into you. The only antidote is to gather your own forces of light and fight. We have so much more power than we think we do. 

 

 

Praise Song for the Day, by Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

For more information on Elizabeth Alexander, please click here.