Category Archives: metaphor

Poem H–Going Fishing


Clover near West Emma Creek

Clover near West Emma Creek

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To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J  (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

WEST EMMA CREEK

It was a halcyon day in June
with nothing in particular
to do, so we decided to go to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read about mockingbirds
and antelope herds
and constellations.

We decided not to go by limousine
to Houston, or aeroplane to Dublin,
or submarine to Arabia, or flying
carpet all the way across
the world to Marrakech.

We decided to go to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read a novel by Jane Austen.

We decided not to go by subway
to the Pentagon
or run into the jungle
or drive into the desert
or fly beyond the sun.
We decided not to be going, going,
going somewhere.

Now we are walking to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read about Little Bear
to children.

STUDENTS

  1. West Emma Creek is an actual stream in central Kansas, but in this poem it serves as a metaphor for _________.
  2. This is, for me, anyway, a short poem, and very little of its vocabulary is accidental.  There are several possible answers to the following question: Why might the poet (moi) have chosen the following words or phrases: mockingbirds? antelope herds? constellations? limousine? aeroplane (with its nonstandard spelling)? submarine? novel by Jane Austen? subway? Pentagon? walking? Little Bear?
  3. Please identify the following poetic (rhetorical) devices in the poem: anaphora, euphony, cacophony, hyperbole.
  4. (There is no single right answer to this question, either.) What, beyond the superfluous (she likes to lie in the sun), do you discover about the poet in “West Emma Creek”— something she might not have known about herself until she wrote the poem?
  5. Does “flying carpet all the way across the world to Marrakech” suggest any particular type of journey?

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Poem F–The Middle Way

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo by Luc Viatour, link below

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC, link below

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Benign Light

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

The previous poem, “Life Is Poetry,” you may purge from your memory bank. I think that I was struggling so much with it because it was too weak a vehicle to carry the burden I had placed upon it.

On the other hand — the following poem, “Benign Light (The Middle Way),” also has me a little mystified, but at least it’s a decent poem. It’s complete, it has been complete for a long time, I feel no need to eff around with it, so I can just study it, meditate on it, comfortably, no hurry.

It's a long way to Belgium from here

It's a long way to Belgium from here

Dordogne, Périgord (France)

Dordogne, Périgord (France), © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

The photograph above and the one at right were taken by Luc Viatour, who is hands down the best photographer I have ever known, although I don’t actually know him, in the sense of having ever seen or spoken with him, inasmuch as he lives in Belgium and I live in Nebraska, though we have exchanged a few brief e-mails. He is very generous with his gazillions of spectacular images, and I illustrated most of my first book, Unfamiliar Territory, with his photographs.

Unfamiliar Territory would be a perfect Valentine’s Day gift, it occurs to me…. And while I’m engaging in blatant self-promotion, I might as well let you know that you can buy “Benign Light,” beautifully illustrated and sold in an 8-1/2-by-11-inch “frameless” frame, for, um, $19.99, with free shipping.

"Benign Light," $19.99

"Benign Light," $19.99

Benign Light (The Middle Way)

Benign, warm light inclines organic
things the way a cat will arch
contentedly toward a caress. Butter,
used to being cool, relaxes its
oppressive form and angularity
when carelessly left on the table by
the window. I used to love to sleep
in pools of sunlight, inching westward, creeping
toward the warmth, as hatchlings blindly cling
to Mama in the nest.

I held a match too long once, lighting birthday
candles on a marble cake with chocolate
frosting; though the little burn scarred
smooth, it smarted fierce for days. That’s when
I learned about the middle way and how
to look for balance in a contest of
extremes. But even in the agony,
innocuous as it may seem in
retrospect, of injuring a toe
or shin or elbow, when you hop about
for no good reason you can think of, there’s
a wakening of senses you’d forgotten
and a memory of the birth of feeling.
So, still cautious, you allow a bit
of gentle light to enter and to
circulate around the tender places,
so long unexposed, at first they shy
away but then are drawn as moth to flame.
And you remind yourself, “the middle way,”
and seek the shade. But something of the glow
remains, for passers-by peer in and say
to one another, “Look! A firefly.”

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

Students

  1. Re “the middle way and how to look for balance in a contest of extremes” — give an example of a “contest of extremes” one might encounter.
  2. Why does the narrator “seek the shade”?
  3. Why a marble cake? Why not sponge cake or coffee cake? There are at least two “correct” answers to this question.
  4. This poem uses commonplace devices (rhyming, pentameter) in rather unconventional ways. How does this practice reinforce the meaning of the poem?

Do you see a bear there?

Yogi Bear

Yogi Bear

The appearance of a poem — the way it looks on the page — can be a poetic device, though it’s one I’ve never used, at least deliberately. But as I was writing a little poem for my granddaughter’s birthday, it struck me that the poem’s shape was similar to the profile of a famous bear — either Yogi (because of the flat head) or Winnie-the-Pooh, I’m not sure which. What do you think?

To Maggie on Her Birthday

You are so dear to me; there is so
much of me in you; and if you find
that frightening, then let me hasten
to assure you: It is Lovely being me;
I like myself enormously, and if some
say I’m slightly out of touch with what
they call reality, what do THEY know?
We all create our own reality, or partially,
or everyone would be the same, and even
the most skeptical agree — they name it
“existentialism” — they can’t help it,
naming things, I mean.

When dreamers say “Follow
Your Dreams,” it’s more than
a cliché, and those who choose
in favor of expediency, becoming
dental-floss distributors, perhaps
(there’s nothing WRONG with that,
if it’s the path that’s lit for you), may
someday wish the toss had gone the
other way. “We are what we pretend
to be” (Kurt Vonnegut), and there is
an infinity of glorious potentialities to
draw upon, not all at once, of course,
but bit by bit, as one will flutter past,
you snap it up, examine it, and keep
the best of what it has that fits. “Be
who you are” is HUGE and TRUE,
reliably, and has been throughout
history, that old banality that
is the key to liberty at last. It
means no matter what you
do, the hard, unblemished
core of individuality that
is uniquely YOU is built
of shards of love and
overfilled with joy,
is solid, beautiful,
unchanging, safe,
and permanent,
and absolutely
necessary to
the Universe.

Pooh with Kanga and Piglet

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Poem E

TapKids

TapKids — Wicked timing, talent, stamina, and entertainment

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God’s Time Is the Best Time

(English subtitle of Cantata No. 106, by J. S. Bach)

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

The Rockettes

The Rockettes

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

I don’t like to explicate my own poems — I let my students do that, and then they explain them to me, and then I get them (the poems; not the students) — but I am not as confident of this poem’s integrity as I would like to be… I keep changing and expanding it… although I think it’s finally Done. I just don’t quite get it! My own poem!

This poem, “Life Is Poetry (Now),” is on my website’s home page, and it is the theme of my free online course “How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically.”

Tap Kids

TapKids again, astounding the audience (see short video below)

And I am going to do a bit of superficial explication, because I’m not sure what the poem is trying to tell me. If you approach poetry-writing properly, your poems will outrun your conscious understanding, just as dreams do. And puzzling them out is usually fun and revealing.

Below are some of the messages I think the poem is trying to express. But I still keep missing that train….

Being ‘on’

If you’re always running after your life, you won’t be paying attention and you’ll miss the signals

Fred Astaire and dancers in the 1935 romantic comedy TOP HAT

Fred Astaire and dancers in the 1935 romantic comedy TOP HAT

But if you must live chaotically, do even that with panache; be magnificent, even if you arrive halfway through your big number

Be bold
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. —Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love – Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Don’t ever, in anything, go on autopilot. I heard recently that Orthodox Jews have prayers and rituals for every conceivable activity, even those that occur in the… um… powder room

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Timing is everything… being in sync with the rhythms that surround you, but also knowing which ones to pay attention to [Ah. I think there’s something here. Not in sync. Unaware of the rhythms]

Brutus, the speaker in the Julius Caesar excerpt above, seems to imply that if you miss the train (“the tide… at the flood”), it’s over, and you might as well just mark time until you croak. I, however, think we have lots of chances, an infinite number. The train keeps coming back… it just doesn’t stay very long in the station… so, travel light; don’t let your baggage weigh you down

BUT THERE’S MORE. I’m still missing something. Look! Except for the fellows below, all the images I chose to illustrate “the poetic life” are big clumps of dancers. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I’m pretty sure that I will never be a Rockette.

The Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, Alexandria, Virginia
The Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, Alexandria, Virginia

LIFE IS POETRY (NOW)

When you find your spot and hit your stride,
regardless of how hard you tried to be
on time and didn’t quite succeed, yet neatly,
gracefully, and perfectly in step,
slipped into your appointed place as if
you were the missing tuba player in
a marching band, but landed with a grin
and saucy bow, finessing now,
extemporaneously starring in
an unpremeditated bit, and everyone
applauded, just assuming it was part
and parcel of the entertainment — then
you’ve made a work of art out of a chance
anomaly, and life is elevated
from the ordinary: It’s a symphony,
a dance, a comedy… perchance, by grace,
beyond felicity, to be accompanied
by ginger tea and love and handmade lace
and wondering at Coleridge and Blake… now
you must get some pixie dust (before
you are allowed a bit of rest and solitude)
to give you extra effervescence and
a bit of magic, and, not merely reading
sonnets of Rossetti, Keats, and Sidney,
be a sonnet, one with careful, offhand
rhyme, magnificent. Be poetry;
its tide is in, its time may not soon be
so sensible again

STUDENTS

  1. Obviously, “be a sonnet” and “be poetry” suggest metaphors. In what ways might a person be, metaphorically, a poem? (I want your wild guesses here; there are no wrong answers)
  2. Why a sonnet, do you think? Why not a rondeau or a cinquain?
  3. The poetic device called sibilance is conspicuous in this poem. What functions might be served by the use of sibilance here?
  4. Life, metaphorically, is a symphony, a dance, a comedy — something orchestrated, choreographed, managed in a way that the poet (who would be me) evidently believes to be a step up from an entropic, path-of-least-resistance lifestyle. How does the poem indicate — explicitly, or by use of rhetoric — that the poet doesn’t want this “managed” life to exclude spontaneity?

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Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Poem C

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

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A Mother’s Prayer

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Students: Name as many rhetorical devices used in this poem as you can.

Grassy valley under a blue sky

My space inviolate—grassy valley under a splendid sky

My Space Inviolate

My space inviolate, circle of safety, whitewashed
in whorls of sweet sunlit air. Here is a cradle;
here is a lullaby; here is the wild strawberry,
here is the lily of the valley, in the shade, these
unpretentious in their scent and in their aspect.
Charmed, I fill my lungs with earth and flower
essence, and my heart with innocence —
nothing tainted is permitted here;
I fill my sight with creamy pastel spring
blooms and new yellow-green sweet grass.
Angels who whirled in the dance now sit quietly,
expectantly, one who is wise beside me.

New spring grass

New spring grass

Meditate this hour on your angelic
guardians, whose charge is but to guide you
to your joy. Now rest and dream, and when
you rise, put on the vestments of your power.

All that is kind; all things for love; all hope for
harmony, you’ve just to ask. It is our only task
to give you ease, to please you, to create
a clean, unsullied heart in you, fulfilling
what you’ve chanted at the precipice
of sleep, so near believing all these years.
Look! Every tear you spent for love and
penitence is sacred; each was shed in
honest pain, and we have saved them for
this baptism.

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Be happy, then. Know that we look after
him and mend his heart, so sore and
unprotected. There! It is done,
and he has seen the messengers of his
salvation, and believed. Then we embraced him
with a lambence that will cleave to him. You
need to understand that love like this,
angels cannot resist. It’s manna, meat and
drink to us. Now you must let him go;
now do release him; entrust him to us.
We shall keep him in an easy custody,
his warden shall be bliss.

Here in this circle is no place for fear.
Nothing feeds it here. Now be serene,
as you were meant to be, for all is well.
The insignificant, pathetic demons
from the place called “hell,” which is no place
at all, but just a state of mind, were chased
away, by saying, “Boo,” and making faces
at them. And yet they scare you so,
they interrupt your dancing— as if they were
substantial… as if they were not less than air.

Cattails


The Many Roads…

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creek_woods_reeds_halfsize

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Poems

waterfall_mountains_halfwsize

DEEP WATER

The Ancient Ones believe: If we
could hear it in primeval purity,
beside a sacred spring, just by the
sunlit surfacing where it emerges
all but unadulterated, there must
be, in all the fullness of a
symphony, a song within the
watercourse — which, hearing,
touching, tasting, bathing in it
heals the spirit of its slow,
insidious decay and makes us
innocent and wholly realized,
perhaps immortal — who can
say?

Even now, you and I can hear our
voices clear and buoyant in the
chorus — although you might
perceive nuances and notes and
cadences in this eternal mystic
composition differently than I.

For since our origin, we have
sailed on different seas to
different ports; our purposes and
choices have developed separate
pathways in the mind through
which the melodies pour in and
where the orchestration rises like
the ocean at high tide. Yet even
so, divided at a crossroads,
separated by a veil, we can yet
decide — to harmonize or clash,
sing peace or, maybe, dissonance
and, if the latter, float with a
deceptive ease, by flattery and
treacherous inducement,
downstream through the sluice
gate to cacophony; so many
voices, shrill and wounded from
the willful howling, shouting,
shrieking to be heard above the
rest.

And when at last we learn that life
is not a race, nor yet a test, then
destiny — some call it grace —
will bring us home, in this life or
the next, perhaps a thousand
lifetimes hence. The many roads
are one road in the end, and every
soul will seek at last the blessed
lullaby; each in time will kneel
beside a holy well, to rest, to be
made innocent, as once more
called to cleansing in the spring,
the sunlit source of all we know
above the deep and hidden flow.

blade_of_grass

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  • Little Things

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course
    Lesson 35
    Chapter 11 (continued): The Morris Chair and Other Metaphors for Love

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    morris-chair-ironwood_publicdomain

    A freshwater swamp in Florida (U.S. Geological Survey)

    A freshwater swamp in Florida (U.S. Geological Survey)

    I am not into angst. Give me good, honest sadness, if you must, but don’t take me down sordid side streets dead-ending in despair.

    Do not write poetry about your feelings, except metaphorically, or in passing. You will get stuck there, in that swamp of emotion, when the point is to uncover what lies beneath the muck.

    Let’s say your mother has just died. Please, if she is living, know that I am not ill-wishing her; may she live in robust health and prosperity to 150. My mother — as you know, if you have been paying attention — died in 1974. I did not write much poetry then; it would be another five years or so before I started writing therapeutically, or out of pure joy, rather than to impress someone.

    If I had wanted to write a poem about my mother, I would not have begun by recalling how wonderful she was and how much I had loved her and was missing her. Those were sentiments that were going nowhere… that were honest but superficial; my feelings were so much more complicated than sadness and grief. There were anger, regret, a little guilt, gratitude, laughter, bemusement, mixed with emotions that, to this day, I believe there are no words for — a tangle of knots and orphan threads that were going to either crush or choke me.

    A schoolchild's slate very similar to Mom's

    A schoolchild’s slate very similar to Mom’s

    As it happened, I went into therapy instead of writing poetry. But if I had written poems for and about my mom, I think I would have begun with the little slate — one of the orphan threads in the tangle.

    I have said that Mom was an antique collector and dealer. One of her prize possessions was a small slate — a child’s personal chalkboard from the days when paper wasn’t plentiful. I’m sure it was fifty or seventy-five years old; it was about five by seven inches if you count the rickety half-inch frame.

    I found the slate in the closet of the spare bedroom a few days after Mom died. Written on it, with white chalk in Mom’s handwriting, was “Merry Christmas 1974.”

    Now, this was very odd, enigmatic bordering on spooky. Mom died on August 8, 1974. For what possible reason might she have, that summer, to all appearances glowing with health and vitality, written “Merry Christmas 1974” on the little slate and put it in a closet where it would be easily found among her treasures?

    Canon Typestar 110 electronic typewriter

    Canon Typestar 110 electronic typewriter

    Pappy’s Journal

    When Dad died, in 1985, I was wiser. I did not go into therapy. Dad had retired about three years after Mom died, had bought an electronic typewriter, and had begun sending to his relatives, periodically, four-page documents printed on the backs of pieces of junk mail. He called this work-in-progress Pappy’s Journal. It contained amusing and sometimes poignant reminiscences about everything from ice-skating on the Des Moines River when he was a boy to a play-by-play of the previous Saturday’s Nebraska Cornhusker football game. Dad had been a CPA and a Scot, and he was thrifty to the core. (He had perfected a way of grafting soap slivers onto just-opened bars of Palmolive.) He always sent four pages, even if the fourth page ended midsentence, because four pages of twenty-pound paper was the maximum you could mail using a single first-class stamp.

    The Red Sea—Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, 2007 (photo by Bobak Ha'Eri)

    The Red Sea—Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, 2007 (photo by Bobak Ha’Eri)

    So instead of seeking psychiatric help, I edited his reminiscences, sparingly, and wrote some annotations, and I also wrote several poems, one of which won first prize in statewide poetry contests in both Kansas and Arizona.

    The Morris Chair

    for Dan Campbell, 1913-1985

    Once it was merely oak and textile, but you
    chose it as your incarnation’s favorite
    dwelling place; and since its cast, at first, was
    hostile to your contours, something had to
    give — the Morris never had a prayer.

    As sitting folks do, you made an impression on the
    topography of the worsted cushion, and, like the
    victim of erosion, the planet was
    reshaped: a plateau here, a gully there… a
    landscape — where before had been mere
    serviceable flatness — was now the sculpted
    valley of adamant flesh, bone, and muscle.

    After the armistice, you and the Morris were
    compatible as the angular pieces of a
    jigsaw puzzle, and anyone else venturing
    to sit upon the thing would find it
    uncongenial, neither rigid nor
    relenting, just tenacious of its silhouette,
    and true to its architect, and steward to
    your indelible effect.

    It doesn’t require a death in the family to write an evocative poem, choosing for its fulcrum something small and secretly prized, perhaps. Here is one of mine:

    Summer Afternoon, Shinnecock, by Julien Alden Weir

    Summer Afternoon, Shinnecock, by Julien Alden Weir

    Meditation on a Summer Afternoon

    All the riches of the world exist in shadows
    of a walnut tree on sunny summer
    afternoons: the small, expressive flutter of
    a leaf in a listless breeze; the cleaving
    scent of earth and pine and grass and
    honeysuckle heavy on the vine; the
    rough-and-tumble scratching of a
    dozen squirrels in a frantic scramble
    branch to branch, and suddenly
    they’re statues munching fat, firm
    nutmeats, littering with shards of
    shell my cluttered yard that I shall
    rake another day; plump robins, in
    shy trepidation, venturing to search
    for succulent gourmet delights, then,
    frightened off by someone’s slamming
    of a door, they dash away on wing
    and call a warning to their mates.
    Nearby a brash woodpecker hammers,
    hammers more, persists in hammering
    upon a maple tree. I clap my hands,
    applauding, and to see what he will
    do. He quits, and then resumes.

    A book of poetry sits idly on my lap,
    unlooked at. Pages turn upon a
    breath of air; perhaps, I fancy, there’s a
    spirit there, enjoying Blake. I listen to my
    children at the neighbor’s, splashing in a
    plastic pool and laughing with the
    unrestraint that grace bestows on
    childhood; and down the street, somebody
    mows a tidy lawn that’s lined by rows of
    peonies, exuberant and lush, ridiculously
    pink or deep merlot.

    Pink peonies (photo by Fanghong)

    Pink peonies (photo by Fanghong)

    Something sighs contentedly. Perhaps it’s
    I, or else a pixie living in a tribe beneath
    the shrubbery. Nothing weighs on me. I
    feel so light that I’m surprised to find
    myself still sitting on my rag of quilt upon
    the grass instead of simply rising, chasing
    birds or playing tag with bees. But I am
    earthen still, and glad of it, delighted to
    be wrapped in humid air; it moves
    sufficiently to cool my skin and curl my
    hair. The ground is warm, a comfort, womb
    of seed and tiny creature curled in sleep,
    awaiting dusk.

    As shadows must, they lengthen and the
    laughter shrills. The time has come. I will
    collect the children and go in. I brush away
    the thought, just for another minute’s
    taste of pure serenity, but also fond
    anticipation of the dinner hour—cheddar
    cheese and melon salad, I decide, and
    lemon pie, and then the bedtime stories
    that transport us to exotic climes. The
    time has come, but I have evening yet to
    savor. Summer comes in such abundant
    flavors—warmth and coolness,
    thunderstorm, forsythia and clover, early
    sunrise, tall and motley hollyhocks—I feast
    upon them all.

    garden_sister_alma_rose-120x139-90x105

    Assignment 35.1

    Every day if you can — but at least twice a week — choose a moment out of the day you have just experienced and write about it metaphorically in the poetic form of your choice. I hope you will do this for the rest of your life. It will prevent your “running on empty,” as Jackson Browne sang… or, perhaps even worse, running on autopilot. Entire spans of years of my life, when I was not living poetically or contemplating things by writing poetry, are a blur to me now, and sometimes I go back and try to recapture those lost moments, as in “Meditation on a Summer Afternoon,” above.

    Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

    * * *

    Detour

    The shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line

    In the poetic life, the shortest possible distance between two points is not always a straight line

    MAP LEGEND

    1. We plan to go to the Washington Monument (intended route = straight vertical line)
    2. Just as we are leaving, we receive emergency phone call: Grandma has fallen down the steps. We drive as quickly as possible to Grandma’s, dodging kangaroos along the route; Grandma is able to walk (a very good sign) and knows her name, what day it is, who is president of the U.S., etc.
    3. We take her to see Dr. Checkerout, who says that Grandma is hale and hardy and that the very best remedy for the small laceration on her left nostril (splinter on steps) would be to spend the day at the Washington Monument (Is that a coincidence, or WHAT?)
    4. We drive back to Grandma’s so that she can get her hat and camera and put on her walking shoes, and we set out again for the Washington Monument

    5. Oh, no! There is road construction in the vicinity of the Washington Monument; we must detour via Bermuda
    6. Well, since we have to go there anyway, we enjoy the sun and the surf in Bermuda, along with numerous tropical drinks containing rum; Grandma is sloshed, so we check in to a hotel
    7. We resume our trip to the Washington Monument the next morning, arriving without incident and having a wonderful time

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

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    Lesson 34
    Dealing Poetically with Adversity

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    roadsign_kangaroo2 

    The poetic life is nothing if not flexible.

    In the above diagram, the shortest distance (as the crow flies) from our house (upper left) and the Washington Monument is represented by a vertical arrow. Once we had learned of Grandma’s accident, however, it was not possible for us to take that route, poetically speaking. The shortest distance had become much longer. If you are going to live poetically, you need to use mystic math.

    Mystic Math

    (The Truth Is in the Poetry)

    One thinks of Julio and Jeanne next door....

    One thinks of Julio and Jeanne next door....

    Is it so foolish to deny that 2
    plus 2 must always equal 4? Because

    one thinks immediately of Julio

    and Jeanne next door, with twins, Celine and

    quiet Jim — not counting Thor, the sheltie,

    they are four indeed — but one in the

    directory, one phone, one family,

    one house, one home.

     

    How many syllables comprise a poem?

    How many deities are in the Trinity?

    How many personalities have you, or I

    (not in the psychopathic sense, of course,

    although one wouldn’t know, would one, if there

    were moments unaccounted for — so many

    billion galaxies to travel in for

    one a bit unraveled)?

     

    ...so many billion galaxies to travel in....

    ...so many billion galaxies to travel in....

    And then there is the Christian marriage

    ceremony, wherein 1 plus 1 make 1,

    and during which the wedding guests affirm

    that all are one in Christ.

     

    One day, one night, together, they become —

    a day. Once more, the sum of 1 plus 1

    is 1, at least within the limits of

    the English language — its vocabulary

    vast, indeed, although, alas, not infinite.

     

    fiddlepm_chair_istockAnd think of all those violins, violas,

    cellos, basses, trumpets, clarinets,

    trombones, and horns and cymbals, harps

    and bells and such — and all the men and

    women, dignified in black and white,

    with all their individual concerns —

    one widowed just a year ago tonight,

    another six years clean and sober; to

    her left, an oboist whose brother was

    indicted yesterday for tax evasion; on

    her right, a Pakistani having such

    a frightful allergy attack — and the

    conductor, who has just received a check

    for twenty thousand dollars from the lottery—

    but now she raises her baton — and

    in that instant of anticipation, in

    that sacred, silent metamorphosis, how

    many, would you say, have they become?

     

    Ludwig van Beethoven, an 1804 portrait

    Ludwig van Beethoven, an 1804 portrait

    Four notes — three quick, one slow — are played:

    the Fifth (but first, perhaps, in pure

    and simple glory) symphony of Beethoven

    begins… and in the audience,

    a few may fidget, measuring

    the minutes and intending to

    retreat at intermission. Violinists

    count the silent beats of idleness

    between their passages, but, I imagine,

    seldom ask themselves how many

    notes they play in all, and just

    as well, it wouldn’t change a thing. Do you

    suppose there’s someone who, for fun

    or scholarship, attempts to number all

    the microbes in the hall, and further,

    calculates the ratio of respirations that

    occur between the second movement and

    the third? For to be sure, it could

    be quantified somewhere by some technology

    or other. Fortunately, no one cares.

    And that’s the point. They came, you see, to hear

    the symphony.

     

    ...the stars care nothing of our counting them....

    ...the stars care nothing of our counting them....

    Therefore, you’ll get no argument from me that 2 plus 2 are 4, not 3 or 17
    or 20, but in turn you must forgive
    the solecism I commit, suggesting there’s
    a truer truth than anything that can
    be proven by addition — if it were
    not so, than why would anybody bother?
    What would be the joy of noticing
    this pattern or that symmetry? Do we
    pursue a proof because the numerals
    insist on our attention? I am sure
    the stars care nothing of our counting
    them or our refraining from it. Finding
    order in the universe, or else
    imposing it, or otherwise competing
    in a race with chaos, really has a single
    benefit — it satisfies, however
    temporarily, the spirit, and
    the truth, you find, is in the poetry,
    not in the paper that it’s written on
    or in the composition of the particles
    that dart about at rates astonishingly
    great — as we believe, for so the eye
    of science witnesses, and since we give
    it credibility, we cannot disagree.
     

    ...viruses or other microscopic entities....

    ...viruses and other microscopic entities....

    It pleases us to cede authority

    to science, even though we never see

    the viruses and other microscopic

    entities; but science offers remedies

    for every manner of disease and warns

    that to release a sneeze uncovered will

    unleash a tyranny of demons; so

    it seems, in our experience, and is

    esteemed as fact, no longer theory…

    because it matters. That’s the only

    reason — saves a life, perhaps, or

    fifty million. If the latter, is the

    scientific effort fifty million times

    more worthy? I don’t know.

    You do the math.

     

    by Sister Alma Rose

    February 2006

    “Galaxies,”  “tulips,” and “stars” images © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

     tulips_magentas

    The Ashley Incident

    My son Jack and daughter-in-law Ashley live next door with their children, one of whom is Little Jack, who is almost a year old.

    Computerized tomography (CT) scanner
    Computerized tomography (CT) scanner

    Last Sunday, I got a 7 a.m. phone call from Ashley. She was obviously in huge pain. I told her to go immediately to the hospital, where the emergency-room personnel discovered via numerous expensive high-tech methodologies that she was hemorrhaging, which I could have told them without the machines and the expense. After about six hours spent groaning in agony, Ashley was rushed to the operating room for exploratory surgery, anesthetized, split open like a salmon, and relieved of a couple of pints of blood and a ruptured ovarian cyst.

    i-40_map
    Red line = I-40

    They sent her home on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after the surgery, with an incision the length of Interstate 40 and instructions not to lift the baby or any other heavy object for two weeks. This was one of those unfunded mandates doctors and hospitals are so fond of issuing, because of course they did not send Mary Poppins or Mr. T  home with Ashley.

    “How,” I asked myself, “would a Person Living Poetically respond to Ashley’s dilemma?” This was not an idle question, because I tend to feel that I am to blame for everything, including World Hunger, and that everything is therefore my responsibility. I am a pathological People-Pleaser, and my default definition of myself (CONtentwise) is “one who ties up all the loose ends in the universe.”

    As it happens, I had a lot to do this week, and Ashley’s plight arose at a very inconvenient time for me. I had deadlines to meet and telephone interviews to conduct and no clean underwear.

    ...telephone interviews to conduct...
    …telephone interviews to conduct…

    Theoretically, it would have been possible for me to keep to my schedule, just as it would have been possible for the Washington Monument–bound family to call 9-1-1 for Granny and go on its merry way. But if one has decided to live poetically, such choices are no longer simple. Another possibility would have been to help Ashley and grouse about it continually, moaning and groaning every time I had to carry little Jack from one room to another or, worse yet, up a flight of stairs, which I did, several times, moaning and groaning shamelessly because, after all, I didn’t drop him, so I attained the victory only slightly tarnished.

    Aleutian Islands (triangles = active volcanoes)
    Aleutian Islands (triangles = active volcanoes)

    Fortunately, I had done the decluttering exercise in Lesson 5.1 and I had finished the personal inventory assigned in Lesson 13, so I wasn’t being a knee-jerk do-gooder when I decided to devote as much time as was needed to Ashley for as long as she needed it. Using the Golden Rule, it turns out, is a pretty good way of making decisions much of the time, and what I would want Others to Do unto Me, if I had just lost 25 percent or so of my blood supply and had major abdominal surgery and if I were lurching around due to the pain of an incision that looked like the Aleutian Islands, is, I would want Others to cater to my every whim and relieve me of all responsibility for babies, diapers, six-year-olds, meals, and the like.

    Finnish macaroni casserole (photo by Suvi Korhonen)
    Finnish macaroni casserole (photo by Suvi Korhonen)

    So that is what I have been doing instead of attending to my blogs and my deadlines and my laundry. That, and accepting with gratitude the various casseroles and salads and desserts supplied by the Church Ladies, because that is what Church Ladies DO, just as helping one’s grown children when they are in need through no fault of their own (as opposed to being in need because they have screwed up Big Time) is what I do, when I am living poetically. 

    Assignment 34.1

    1. Identify as many poetic devices as you can in “Mystic Math,” above.
    2. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
    3. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.  

    * * *

     

    Ritualize

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 27

    Chapter 9: Rituals and Celebrations
    Part 6: Personal Rituals, continued

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    Baking cookies

    Baking cookies

    If you have done Assignment 5.1 (Declutter Your Life) — especially if you were ruthless in your decluttering — perhaps you’ve made time to practice some of the customs and rituals that bind us as communities and families, and that help us meet our individual needs for structure and purpose. Here, in no particular order, is a list of individual, family, social, and religious customs, traditions, and rituals, some of which might be part of your life:

    Story time

    Story time

    • family meals — preparing, eating, conversing, and cleaning up
    • saying grace at meals
    • Christmas caroling (or wassailing)
    • holiday observances and meals
    • housekeeping
    • prayer
    • meditation
    • confession
    • communion
    • congregational worship
    • dance
    • sports
    • family game night
    • campfires
    • day trips
    • picnics
    • barbecues
    • gardening
    • volunteer work
    • visiting relatives
    • visiting the sick
    • weddings
    • bridal and baby showers
    • viewings and funerals
    • bedtime stories
    • ablutions (hygiene — washing, brushing teeth, and so forth)
    • going for walks
    • dating (dinner and a movie?)
    • reading out loud to family
    A traditional snowman

    A traditional snowman

    While some rituals, traditions, and customs become irrelevant and fall out of use, others cling for no apparent reason. We still “knock on wood” after asserting that, for example, we’ve “never gotten so much as a parking ticket” — possibly a remnant of the ancient practice of waking the tree gods and invoking their protection against future parking tickets. The practice of blessing someone after he or she sneezes may derive from an old belief that demons can enter your body when you sneeze. (Gesundheit means, roughly, “good health.”)

    I enjoy these harmless practices because they connect me with ancestors whose names I’ll never know… although it’s getting harder to find real wood, and “knock on laminate” doesn’t have the mystique of “knock on wood.”

    After school

    After school

    On the other hand, the tradition of the “Sunday drive” has all but disappeared. When I was a little girl, residential air-conditioning was practically unheard-of and television sets were almost equally rare. Sunday dinner was usually eaten in the mid-afternoon, but in the summer it was too hot to cook during the day, so often we’d pile in the car with a picnic basket full of egg-salad sandwiches, carrot and celery sticks, potato chips, and cold pop — grape Nehi, perhaps. Alongside most country roads there were picnic tables under spreading cottonwoods or sycamores every few miles. We’d stop at the shadiest spot we could find, spread our tablecloth, and have our little feast, observed by squirrels and birds waiting to tidy up after us.

    Nehi advertisement on a matchcover

    Nehi advertisement on a matchcover

    Now, on summer Sunday afternoons, for better or for worse, the ritual of televised Major League Baseball has largely replaced the family outing. Indeed, family dinners, in many families, are consumed in front of the family television or — sadder yet — televisions.

    Assignment 27.1 Ritualize

    Read “Women’s Altars” at Sister Alma Rose Has the Last Word.

    Evaluate the rituals and traditions you observe. What is their purpose? In what ways are they metaphorical? Are they time-wasters, or do they provide structure and meaning? Are there rituals and traditions that you don’t practice but that would benefit you and your family? How can you work them into your family routine?

    1. Please e-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your work, but I will return your assignment to you with comments.

    * * *

    The Magi

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 25

    Chapter 9: Rituals and Celebrations
    Part 4: Epiphany

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    * * *

    A 1938 portrait of T. S. Lewis, by Wyndham Lewis

    A 1938 portrait of T. S. Lewis, by Wyndham Lewis

    2:1  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 

    2:2  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

    2:3  When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

    2:4  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

    2:5  And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

    2:6  And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

    2:7  Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

    2:8  And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

    2:9  When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

    2:10  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

    2:11  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

    2:12  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

    The Gospel According to Matthew, King James Version

    * * *

    The Journey of the Magi

    ‘A cold coming we had of it,
    Just the worst time of the year
    For the journey, and such a long journey:
    The ways deep and the weather sharp,
    The very dead of winter.’
    And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
    Lying down in the melting snow.
    There were times we regretted
    The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
    And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
    Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
    And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
    And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
    And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
    And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
    A hard time we had of it.
    At the end we preferred to travel all night,
    Sleeping in snatches,
    With the voices singing in our ears, saying
    That this was all folly.

    The Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

    The Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

    Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
    Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
    With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
    And three trees on the low sky,
    And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
    Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
    Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
    And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
    But there was no information, and so we continued
    And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
    Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

    All this was a long time ago, I remember,
    And I would do it again, but set down
    This set down
    This: were we led all that way for
    Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
    We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
    But had thought they were different; this Birth was
    Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
    We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
    But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
    With an alien people clutching their gods.
    I should be glad of another death.

    T. S. Eliot

    * * *

    A journey of the spirit

    Portrait by Paul Van Somer of James VI, King of Scots; James I, King of England; 1603-1613

    Portrait by Paul Van Somer of James VI, King of Scots; James I, King of England; 1603-1613

    Bible scholars have long debated the identity of the magi (pronounced MAY-jee or MAY-jye; singular is magus, pronounced MAY-guss). Were they Persians from the ancient priestly caste of Zoroastrianism? Were they kings or exiled Jews? Were there, in fact, three such visitors? Or are they simply part of the “mythology” surrounding the birth of Jesus?

    What matters, for the purpose of our present discussion, is that, biblically, the magi represent the acknowledgement by non-Jews of Jesus as not merely a king but a divine king, one to be worshiped.

    The date of their arrival is, by tradition, held to be January 6 — the last of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” This date — and the liturgical season that follows it, leading up to the Lenten Season — is called Epiphany (Greek for “to manifest” or “to show). In a nonreligious context, we might use the word epiphany to describe a sudden insight or revelation.

    The best poetry is language distilled, every word essential, anything superfluous filtered out and discarded. In your study of “the Journey of the Magi,” be assured that there is nothing accidental in, say, the choice of the word satisfactory to describe the arrival, or in the repetitiveness in

    And I would do it again, but set down
    This set down
    This….

    What was Eliot’s “epiphany”?

    I suppose that you could make it your life’s work to study this poem and still not explain every nuance. It’s important to know that Eliot was baptized into the Church of England and became a British citizen (he was born in St. Louis) in 1927, the year this poem was published. What seems obvious (and is therefore suspect) is that the poet is alluding to his spiritual journey from agnosticism to Christianity, perhaps colored by his embracing England as his home. 

    Assignment 25.1

    Write a poem in free verse (unrhyming, without strict meter, but still using other rhetorical devices common in poetry) of no more than thirty lines about a metaphorical journey toward a life-changing realization — an “epiphany” — of your own. Identify the rhetorical devices used in your poem. Please e-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your work, but I will return your assignment to you with comments.

     

    * * *

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    What Are You Waiting For?

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 24

    Chapter 9: Rituals and Celebrations
    Part 3: Advent

     

    Don’t concentrate on the things you want. Concentrate on the feelings you want to experience.— Heard on Hay House Radio, December 2008

    Advent (n.): arrival that has been awaited (especially of something momentous); “the advent of the computer”; the season including the four Sundays preceding Christmas
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn, accessed December 17, 2008

    A contemporary Advent wreath (photo by Andrea Schaufler)

    A contemporary Advent wreath (photo by Andrea Schaufler)

    For Christians, the season of Advent is a time of waiting — a less somber sort of waiting than the Lenten season, because the climax of Advent is a royal birth amid humble surroundings — heralded, nonetheless, by angels and celebrated by kings and shepherds alike.

    Advent, like most Christian observances, has prechristian origins:

    Ancient Germanic peoples gathered evergreen branches, wove them into wreaths, and decorated them with lighted fires as signs of hope during the cold of winter… [for the coming of spring]. Christians adopted this tradition. By the 16th century, Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols as part of their Advent celebration. For them Christ was the symbol of hope, and was known as the everlasting Light, [before which the darkness of winter would vanish]. Therefore,… Advent, like… Christmas and Easter,… was a “Christianized pagan… [experience].” —http://clergyresources.net/Advent/origins_of_advent.htm, accessed December 17, 2008

    Toward Contentment

    Advent is, among other things, a metaphor for the human condition, which is one of chronic anticipation. Even if I am working on a task that interests and absorbs me, my work is motivated by the anticipation of finishing it. Yet completing the task brings only short-lived satisfaction; often there is more joy in the anticipation than in the completion, just as traveling can be much more fun than arriving. You are perhaps familiar with this quotation about Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE): “When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer” (Plutarch’s [C.E. 46-126] Life of Alexander).

    A mural in Pompeii, depicting the marriage of Alexander to Barsine (Stateira) in 324 BC. The couple are apparently dressed as Ares and Aphrodite.

    A mural in Pompeii, depicting the marriage of Alexander to Barsine (Stateira) in 324 BC. The couple are apparently dressed as Ares and Aphrodite.

    Utter contentment is impossible for us mortals because it would mean resistance to change, and things are always changing. Only in deep meditation do we (temporarily) gather the loose threads of our lives and allow them to remain unwoven. In meditation there is no striving, there is only gentle acceptance. Jack Kornfield teaches that if, during your time of meditation, you are hungry, you can decide to embrace the hunger within your meditation or to stop meditating and get something to eat. Either is fine. You are not to judge yourself. Whatever meditation is about, it is NOT about beating yourself up — ever.

    There are, of course, degrees of “chronic anticipation.” There is perennial discontent. There are fears (rational and irrational) and anxieties. There are sadnesses, which I classify as “full” and “empty.” When my mother died, I was “full” of sadness. It was a kind of wealth of feeling, enriched by the knowledge that if I hadn’t loved her so much I wouldn’t be feeling so bad, and also by a sense that, though I would always feel the loss, it wouldn’t always be so sharp and painful. But, in the year after her death, there was also depression — an emptiness of feeling, a refusal to accept the pain — and there was anxiety, because her death had been unexpected and so it seemed as if something horrible could happen at any time, and I feared to relax, to let down my guard against the possibility of disaster. This is, I’m told, normal.

    ‘Mom!’ no more

    There was a different kind of emptiness when my youngest child left home in 1998. He had joined the army, so his leaving was sudden and dramatic, not the gradual kind of going-away-to-college leaving, which can be equally devastating but which at least allows a mother to cling to the illusion that her child still needs her.

    Shingles, yuck

    Shingles, yuck

    I was so ill equipped to deal with the loss of my identity as “Mom!” that I became physically ill. After all, I had been “Mom!” for over thirty years. Being sick was, I think, my body’s way of reminding me that I was still alive. First I came down with the shingles (Herpes zoster) virus on my face and scalp. Shingles, as you probably know, is the inflammation of a nerve, and it can be excruciating. In my case, the weight of air was painful. Fortunately, my optic nerve was not involved; if it had been, I could have gone blind in the affected eye.

    But the worst was yet to come. In the wake of shingles can follow any number of disorders, including postherpetic neuralgia and autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and so forth). Whatever the cause (no one is quite sure), my joints swelled and reddened and I was in constant pain for which the only sure remedy was prednisone, and you just can’t take handfuls of prednisone if you want to safeguard vital internal organs such as your liver.

    My house

    My house

    By the end of 2002 I had lost my job, my fiancé, my house, my beautiful pickup truck, my savings, and my precious Labradors. I went limping to the refuge of my daughter’s home, more than a thousand miles from where I had lived for most of my adult life, and found solace among longtime friends and extended family and in the church where I now live as caretaker. I struggled for two years to succeed at an eight-to-five job in marketing, but it was beyond my physical strength.

    The storm before the calm

    My identity as “capable, reliable employee” had been second only to my identity as “Mom!” in propping up my ego, and now that, too, was gone. Other calamities, too sordid or too complicated to describe, came and went. At times I was literally penniless. And I couldn’t say, with any conviction, “Well, at least I have my health.”

    Ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, where Plutarch served as one of the priests responsible for interpreting the predictions of the oracle. (Photo by Davis Monniaux)

    Ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, where Plutarch served as one of the priests responsible for interpreting the predictions of the oracle. (Photo by David Monniaux)

    And what I discovered, in circumstances that would have seemed unimaginably bleak only a few years earlier, was joy.

    In 2000, when I first became unemployed, I began meditating and writing poems and songs — mostly gospel music and hymns — sometimes dozens in the space of a week. While the elements of life as I had known it slipped away, I turned to prayer, meditation, and poetry-writing, finding not only moments of peace but also objects of curiosity, and so I engaged in a serious study of those practices, gleefully aware that I would never run out of material. My goals, unlike Alexander’s, would never be fulfilled.

    I had formally studied music, poetry, and religion in college, and had continued to indulge my interest in those subjects throughout my life. They had always been sources of pleasure; now they were resources for survival.

    Bloom where you’re planted

    Oregon Trail ruts near Guernsey, Wyoming (photo by Chris Light)

    Oregon Trail ruts near Guernsey, Wyoming (photo by Chris Light)

    So much of life is ballast — stuff that seems necessary for balance when you have it but that you are perfectly willing to throw overboard when your ship is going down. You have probably read about pianos and bedsteads found alongside the Santa Fe or the Oregon Trail, each discarded treasure giving the oxen one less thing to haul westward, and, as a bonus, giving the owners one less possession to dust.

    The first thing to go is guilt. As observed in Lesson 13, “the only function of guilt is to motivate us to make whatever amends are possible and to behave differently in the future. After that, indulging in guilt is like picking a scab.”

    Next is anxiety, which is a little harder to shed than guilt is because we know a lot more about the past than we do about the future.

    ‘I don’t mind what happens’

    In the bestselling book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle distinguishes between the CONtent and the essence of the human spirit. He tells this story about

    J. Krishnamurti, the great Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher, [who] spoke and traveled almost continuously all over the world for more than fifty years attempting to convey through words — which are content — that which is beyond words, beyond content. At one of his talks in the later part of his life, he surprised his audience by asking, “Do you want to know my secret?” Everyone became very alert. Many people in the audience had been coming to listen to him for twenty or thirty years and still failed to grasp the essence of his teaching. Finally, after all these years, the master would give them the key to understanding. “This is my secret,” he said. “I don’t mind what happens.”

    This kind of serenity is not emotional numbness. In fact, freedom from fear brings freedom to love fully; to be gently compassionate with yourself and with others; to experience the full range of human emotions, in fact, because you know that you are not your emotions and that they can’t destroy you, even the really messy ones. Through meditation the indestructible Self and the connectedness with all things are revealed.

    My 2008 Christmas letter begins,

    If I ever write a book about this period of my life (and I will), it will be titled Adventures in Poverty. It will extol the people who have encouraged and supported me since I quit my vile but well-paying job 2-1/2 years ago to start writing my own stuff instead of other people’s bloated ads and vapid news releases. It will be chock full of Household Hints (“Spray your shower walls with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and tea-tree oil and some other liquids, I forget what, then get out of the bathroom, fast”; “How to make laundry detergent out of soap slivers and other stuff you have lying around the house”; “How to make a hearty soup out of black beans, stale doughnuts, and other stuff you have lying around the house”)… and so forth. It will convince you that you don’t need a car, you just need friends who have cars. You will discover that Wal-Mart is the Antichrist, and how I know that, and much better ways to save $$$. You will learn how to sweet-talk “Ginger” at Qwest so that she won’t disconnect your phone. And you will understand how little you need, really, to be happy.

    I still want a bathtub

    I still want a bathtub

    Not that I have become a willing ascetic. I still want things, in particular an antique bathtub, because when the church refurbished my bathroom after the Great Rat Exodus of 2005, the contractors installed a shower — a very fine shower, to be sure, but there are times when a girl just wants, you know, a bubble bath to ease the ache in her limbs and the tightness in her neck.

    In meditation, and in writing poetry meditatively, however, I am waiting for nothing, not even a bathtub. In meditation, at least, “whatever is, is right” (Alexander Pope).

    ME INPERTURBE

    ME imperturbe, standing at ease in Nature,
    Master of all, or mistress of all — aplomb in the midst of irrational things,
    Imbued as they — passive, receptive, silent as they,
    Finding my occupation, poverty, notoriety, foibles, crimes, less important than I thought;
    Me private, or public, or menial, or solitary—all these subordinate, (I am eternally equal with the best — I am not subordinate;)
    Me toward the Mexican Sea, or in the Mannahatta, or the Tennessee, or far north, or inland,
    A river man, or a man of the woods, or of any farm-life in These States, or of the coast, or the lakes, or Kanada,
    Me, wherever my life is lived, O to be self-balanced for contingencies!
    O to confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do.

    Walt Whitman, 1819-1892

    Walt Whitman in 1887

    Walt Whitman in 1887

    What was Walt Whitman waiting for? To be serene, “self-balanced,” in every circumstance. Aren’t we all? Wouldn’t that make everything else unnecessary? Wouldn’t the cup always be overflowing (or at least half-full instead of half-empty, or, as the late George Carlin used to say, twice as big as it needs to be)?

    Whitman, by the way, wrote in free verse, “a term describing various styles of poetry that are written without using strict meter, rhythm, or rhyme (Ex: end rhyme), but still recognizable as poetry by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that readers will perceive to be part of a coherent whole.” —Wikipedia, referencing G. Burns Cooper, Mysterious Music: Rhythm and Free Verse, Stanford University Press, 1998

    Assignment 24.1

    1. Write a poem (30 lines maximum) in free verse (unrhyming, without strict meter, but still using other rhetorical devices common in poetry) about “what you are waiting for” — the one thing needed for contentment.
    2. Write another poem (30 lines maximum) about what it would feel like to finally possess the “one thing needed.”
    3. Please e-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your work, but I will return your assignment to you with comments.

     

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