- Wake up
- Empty the bladder
- Brush teeth
- Make the bed
- Feed the cats
- Your son writes his grandmother
- Write your lover
- The school bus
- Dinner plans
- That book under your skin
- No, I already fed you cats
- Write museum ask what was that poem
- She doesn’t want more college advice
- Maybe she does
- Why don’t factory towns in New England resemble coal towns in West Virginia?
- Pick up soccer kits and distribute: game’s tomorrow
- Grocery store
- What was on the list?
- Do this first
- No, the litter box needs changing
- What was that about lunch?
- No homework today
- Idle chatter that’s how you learn about another’s day
- OK. You cats never give up, do you?
- Will they want to read tonight?
- No, you can’t stay up: game’s tomorrow.
- Wait: weren’t you supposed to work today?
The iPhone crouches at the corner of my chair, well within reach. The iMac sits on the altar in the living room, but I can worship from afar by picking up the iPhone. The god of distractions is generous this way: it does not care what use you have for it, only what use it has for you.
Poetry rests in the little spaces between distractions. It waits in the silence for brief attention, patient, burdock along the trail.
There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.
— Mary Oliver, “Moments,” Felicity (2016)
Starting the morning with a poem is, oddly, a practice that hadn’t occurred to me until listening to Krista Tippett’s conversation with Naomi Shihab Nye: Your Life is a Poem. No. 1 Daughter, around the time she became the Big Sister, wrote “pomes” she would carry around the house in her pocket. I wonder if she still does.
The Zen priest says I am everything I am not.
In order to stop resisting, I must not attempt to stop resisting.
I must believe there is no need to believe in thoughts.
Oblivious to appetites that appear to be exits, and also entrances.
What is there to hoard when the worldly realm has no permanent vacancies?
Ten years I’ve taken to this mind fasting.
My shadow these days is bare.
It drives a stranger, a good fool.
Nothing can surprise.
Clarity is just questioning having eaten its fill.
Jenny Xie, “To Be a Good Buddhist is Ensnarement” (2018)
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
There is such joy and hope in this poem, by some accounts written moments after hearing the news on the day of the Armistice.
Compare to “In Flanders Fields,” more commonly associated with the war, at least by this schoolboy.
In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.We are the Dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved and were loved, and now we lie,In Flanders fields.Take up our quarrel with the foe:To you from failing hands we throwThe torch; be yours to hold it high.If ye break faith with us who dieWe shall not sleep, though poppies growIn Flanders fields.
Written after the death of a friend in the Second Battle of Ypres, here the countless dead beg the living to fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy, and throw good money, or lives in this case, after bad. In 1915 the war was still not entirely hopeless.
Sassoon addressed the waste of war in other poems. Whether “Everyone Sang” is a hymn in response to the peace or not, there’s a moment of hope, of life breaking out in joy.
Hear Siegfied Sassoon read “Everyone Sang” at the Poetry Archive.
This thing I started to write
I’ve lost it
I misplaced it somewhere
perhaps on a low shelf just out of sight
And when I find it again
I’ll remember what it was