Shards

If you must
sit inside on a bright and lovely day,
focused--for definitions that mean unfocused--
on the screen of a computer,
not the world around,
then the shards of life caught in its web
offer beautiful solace.

Yesterday, while cleaning the screen, I found brief mention of Neja Tomšič’s Tea for five: Opium Clippers. It’s a transitory artwork, a happening, so I can’t experience it, but I’m struck by what tiny glimpse the Internet has given me of her work.

Statistically Speaking

When I was born, I was one of
 three billion,
 seven hundred seventy-five million,
 seven hundred ninety thousand,
 nine hundred twenty-three

or thereabouts.

Today, I am one of
 seven billion,
 seven hundred fourteen million,
 five hundred seventy-six thousand,
 nine hundred twenty-three

or thereabouts.

At this rate, it would need a plague
or some great calamity,
a climatic holocaust perhaps,
for me to be
twice the man I was

or thereabouts.

Somehow I doubt the cliché
had statistics in mind when age
would strip my capacity
to less than half
the man I used to be

or thereabouts.

THIS IS THE TITLE CENTERED

This, then, is the first line
Of this poem, my first submission
For your brief, kind, consideration.

You can see from this line what I’ve read:
Your requirements for spacing and such.
You exceed expectations, asking so much.

I’ve heard from others
—Libertines and scoundrels and cads—
That they sent you scads

Written, colored pencil and crayon, on
Construction paper and lace hearts,
With easy rhymes such as “Daddy’s farts.”

All accepted!
Not a rejection in the pile!

So please accept this pome,
Though it may not scan (whatever that is),
Or fall pleasingly from the lips,

Because I’ve adoring children
Who think the world of their dad.
Do you want them sad?

A Procrastinator’s Love Song

Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
If I got up this morn, then I could do them too.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.

The first thing to do is to do the thing to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
Then the thing to do is to do the thing to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.

There are things to do that they want me to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
I don’t want to do what they want me to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.

Let’s find things to do that they say not to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
Some of the things to do are things to do with you.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.

Things to do with you are the things I like to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
Things for me and you.

(Baby I’ll be with you ’til there’s nothing left to do.)

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

— “Any Morning,” William Stafford (1993)

To Do List

  • Wake up
  • Empty the bladder
  • Brush teeth
  • Make the bed
  • Feed the cats
  • Your son writes his grandmother
  • Write your lover
  • Insulin
  • The school bus
  • Breakfast
  • Dishes
  • Laundry
  • Dinner plans
  • That book under your skin
  • No, I already fed you cats
  • Write museum ask what was that poem
  • Laundry
  • She doesn’t want more college advice
  • Maybe she does
  • Why don’t factory towns in New England resemble coal towns in West Virginia?
  • Sweep
  • 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
  • Sweep
  • What was that about lunch?
  • Laundry
  • Sweep
  • Vacuum
  • No homework today
  • Bon-bons
  • Idle chatter that’s how you learn about another’s day
  • Guests!
  • OK. You cats never give up, do you?
  • Dinner
  • Insulin
  • Will they want to read tonight?
  • Dishes
  • No, you can’t stay up: game’s tomorrow.
  • Bed
  • Wait: weren’t you supposed to work today?

Now

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)

Woke Up This Morning

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.

Today’s offering from the American Academy of Poets is Jenny Xie‘s “To Be a Good Buddhist Is Ensnarement.”


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 Sang

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.

Everyone Sang,” Siegfried Sasson (November 1918)

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 blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We 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 throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields,” John McCrae (2 May 1915)

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.