Everyday Life

If your everyday life seems poor to you,
do not accuse it;
accuse yourself,
tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches;
since for the creator
there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place.
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
~Mary Oliver

As a child, I would sometimes spend long rainy afternoons languishing on the couch, complaining to my mother how boring life was. 

Her typical response was to remind me my boredom said more about me than about life– I became the accused, rather than the accuser,  failing to summon up life’s riches. 

Thus convicted, my sentence followed:  she would promptly give me chores to do.   I learned not to voice my complaints about how boring life seemed, because it always meant work.

Some things haven’t changed, even fifty-some years later.  Whenever I am tempted to feel frustrated or pitiful or bored, accusing my life of being poor or unfair, I need to remember what that says about me.  If I’m not poet enough to recognize the Creator’s brilliance in every slant of light or every molecule, then it is my poverty I’m accusing, not His.

So – back to the work of paying attention and being astonished.  There is a life to be lived and almost always something to say about it.

Every Morning, So Far, I’m Alive



Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn’t it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I’m alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

~Mary Oliver  “Landscape”

photo by Cheryl Bostrom

In gratitude to poet Mary Oliver, who did not wake up this morning on this side of the veil, but did wake up to unimaginable glory on another side:

Even in mid-January,
when endless days drag on dark and damp~
even when I am unconvinced
new life and light will ever return,
these mosses grow with enthusiasm,
requiring so little to stay alive~

they patiently encourage me
to fly with strong wings,
to keep open the doors of my heart
to the possibility
that even now,
especially now when I can’t imagine it,
I too will thrive.


When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
~Mary Oliver from “When Death Comes”

Oatmeal Should Not Be Eaten Alone

 

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone. 
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health 
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have 
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary 
companion. 
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge, 
as he called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him: 
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, 
and unusual willingness to disintegrate, oatmeal should 
not be eaten alone.
…I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering
furrows, muttering.
Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion’s tatters.
~Galway Kinnell from “Oatmeal”

 

 

But now the supper crowns their simple board, 
The halesome parritch, chief o Scotia’s food;
~Robert Burns from “The Cotter’s Saturday Night”

 

 

 

But when the melancholy fit shall fall 
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud, 
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all, 
And hides the green hill in an April shroud; 
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose, 
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave, 
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
~John Keats from “Ode on Melancholy”

 

 

 

 

Oatmeal mixed up with a bit of chewy melancholy,
reading of poets and peonies and wholesome parritch;
it seems early for poetry on this sublime shrouded morning in April …
yet like porridge, nothing more is needed to begin the day well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Simple Welcome

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He saw clearly how plain and simple – how narrow, even – it all was;
but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him,
and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence.
He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid space
s, 
to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him 
and creep home and stay there; 
the upper world was all too strong, 
it called to him still, even down there, 
and he knew he must return to the larger stage. 
But it was good to think he had this to come back to, 
this place which was all his own, 
these things which were so glad to see him again 
and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.
~Kenneth Grahame, from Wind in the Willows (about the Mole and his home at Mole End)

 

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If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place.
― Rainer Maria Rilke

 

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As a child, I would sometimes spend long rainy afternoons languishing on the couch at home, complaining to my mother how boring my life was.  Her typical response was to remind me my boredom said more about me than about life – I became the accused, rather than the accuser,  failing to summon up life’s riches.  Thus convicted, my sentence followed:  she would promptly give me chores to do.   I learned not to voice my complaints about life because it always meant work.

Some things haven’t changed, even fifty five years later.  Whenever I am tempted to feel pitiful or bored, accusing my life of being poor or unfair, I need to remember what that says about me.  There is a whole world out there to explore, plenty of work needing doing and always a welcome home when I return.

If I’m not poet enough to celebrate the gilded edge of the plain and simple, if I’m not poet enough to articulate beauty even in the sharp thorns of life, if I’m not poet enough to recognize the Creator’s brilliance in every molecule, then it is my poverty I’m accusing, not his.

Back to work then.  There is a life to be lived, a world to experience and words to be written.

And it is good to think we have all this to come back to, this place which is all our own.

 

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photo by Nate Gibson

 

 

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My Voice, Unsought

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To find your voice you must forget about finding it,
and trust that if you pay sufficient attention to life
you will be found to have something to say which no one else can say.

…that will be your voice, unsought,
singing out from you of itself.
~Denise Levertov from The Discovery of Voice

 

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At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then -it is handed to you.

From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbons and bows; it has two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s.
~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”

 

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Some days my voice feels weak,
as if I have said too much
and grown hoarse
choking on the smoky haze surrounding me.
I take a swing and miss,
always listening, looking, living
for that connection
that only words can make.

 

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The Dearest Freshest Deep Down Things

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THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”

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Unless the eye catch fire,
Then God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
Then God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
Then God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire,
Then God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire,
Then God will not be known.
~William Blake from “Pentecost”

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Today, when we feel we are without hope,
when the bent world reels in blood and violence,
when faith feels frail,
when love seems distant,
we wait, stilled,
for the moment we are lit afire ~
when the Living God is
seen, heard, named, loved, known
forever burning in our hearts deep down,
brooded over by His bright wings
we are His dearest, freshest
in this moment
and eternity.

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August Burning Low

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Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now
~Emily Dickinson

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“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time.  The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world.  She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:

So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others. The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state.  Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.”
~N. Scott Momaday from “The Man Made of Words”

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On the first day I took his class on Native American Mythology and Lore in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this Dickinson poem on the blackboard.  He told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written — this in a class devoted to Native American writing and oral tradition.  In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a New England recluse poet — someone as culturally distant from him and his people as possible.

But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences, and Scott knew this as he led us, mostly white students, through this poem.  What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our understanding of nature and the world in which we, its creatures, find ourselves. As summer begins its descent into the dark death of winter, we, unlike the crickets, become all too aware we too are descending.  There is no one as lonely as an individual facing their mortality and no one as lonely as a poet facing the empty page, in search of words to describe the sacrament of sacrifice and perishing.

Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone.  The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man who will emerge transformed.

There is no furrow on the glow.  There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already lovingly planted by our Creator God, yielding a fruited plain.

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