Poem of the Week, by Rolf Jacobsen

Last week I was listening to a podcast in which the speaker quoted a Buddhist teacher he’d once had, who said “You don’t have to like everyone you meet. You just have to love them.” Yeesh! The idea of loving everyone, no matter who, no matter what they’ve done to others, themselves, the world, me, feels impossible. But also, somehow, right.

So I’ve been trying the idea on for size, using my one tried and true method of conjuring warmth inside me for (almost) anyone, no matter how brutal they are, which is to imagine them the way they must once have been, back when they were tiny. Back when there was no war in them.

When They Sleep, by Rolf Jacobsen (translated by Robert Hedin)

All people are children when they sleep,
there’s no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.
They pucker their lips like small children
and open their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.
If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.
– God, teach me the language of sleep.

For more information about Rolf Jacobsen, here’s his Wikipedia entry.

For more information about poet and translator Robert Hedin, check out his website.


alisonmcghee.com
Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Robert Hedin

Four spots open in each of our two remaining one-day workshops next month – I’d love to see you there. Check them out here.

Long ago, I went to look at a little house for sale on a lake. My realtor and I showed up at the appointed time but the homeowner was still there. She stood at an ironing board in the living room, ironing pieced quilt squares with a grim-faced focus that made me wary and quiet. Are you making a quilt, I ventured, but she said nothing.

The rooms of the house emanated sadness and fury. She’s getting divorced and she doesn’t want to and she has to sell her house and she doesn’t want to do that either, was the thought that came to me. I inclined my head in the direction of the ironing board and left the house in silence.

This poem makes me think about the wild, silent grief and rage of that long-ago woman. It makes me think about what we’re really doing when we do the things we do.

Raising the Titanic, by Robert Hedin

I spent the winter my father died down in the basement,
under the calm surface of the floorboards, hundreds

of little plastic parts spread out like debris
on the table. And for months while the snow fell

and my father sat in the big chair by the Philco dying,
I worked my way up deck by deck, story by story,

from steerage to first class, until at last it was done,
stacks, deck chairs, all the delicate rigging.

And there it loomed, a blazing city of the dead.
Then painted the gaping hole at the waterline

and placed my father at the railings, my mother
in a lifeboat pulling away from the wreckage.


For more information about Robert Hedin, please check out his website.

alisonmcghee.com
Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Olav Hauge

My new poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

A couple of days ago I went looking in my files for a long poem by Li-Young Lee, two lines of which were haunting me. The poem popped up in a journal from twenty years ago, a journal I have no memory of keeping, and I spent the afternoon reading the entire thing. All the questions that bedeviled me then still bedevil me, and I ended up shrugging and thinking Well, I guess you’ve always been who you are, Alison.

That same day, a friend sent this beautiful poem. It felt familiar to me the way some poems do, as if you were born knowing them, so I went searching through my emails only to find that I’d sent it out as the Poem of the Week almost ten years ago. Another mental shrug. All the dreams we carry, and keep carrying.

This Is the Dream, by Olav Hauge, tr. by Robert Bly and Robert Hedin

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.



(in  the original Norwegian)

DET ER DEN DRAUMEN 

Det er den draumen me ber på
at noko vedunderleg skal skje,
at det må skje —
at tidi skal opna seg
at hjarta skal opna seg
at dører skal opna seg
at berget skal opna seg
at kjeldor skal springa —
at draumen skal opna seg,
at me ei morgonstund skal glida
inn på ein våg me ikkje har visst um.


For more information about Olav Hauge, please click here.

alisonmcghee.com
Words by Winter: my new podcast

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.
Website

Blog

Facebook page

@alisonmcghee

 

Poem of the Week, by Robert Hedin

IMG_0695

Once, when I was bushwhacking through the woods and came to a clearing, I saw an owl in the tree closest to me. It was perched on a limb about ten feet off the ground, and the tree was about ten feet from me, and I had never been that close to an owl. The owl’s face was mesmerizing – flat and soft-looking, with eyes fixed on mine. I tilted my head to take it in better, and the owl tilted its head too. I tilted my head the other way, and so did the owl. Back and forth we went, in rhythm with each other, just me and the owl, in silence. When I need to conjure up peace inside myself, I think of that owl. And now I will also think of this quiet, beautiful poem below.  

 

Owls, by Robert Hedin

 

Owls glide off the thin
wrists of the night,
and using snow for their feathers
drift down on either side
of the wind.

I spot them
as I camp along the ridge,
glistening over the streambeds,
their eyes small rooms
lit by stone lamps.

 

For more information about Robert Hedin, please click here.