Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Barn in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,  
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.  
Down the ravine behind the empty house,  
The cowbells follow one another  
Into the distances of the afternoon.  
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,  
The droppings of last year’s horses  
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.  
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life. 

– James Wright

Afraid So

Is it starting to rain?
Did the check bounce?
Are we out of coffee?
Is this going to hurt?
Could you lose your job?
Did the glass break?
Was the baggage misrouted?
Will this go on my record?
Are you missing much money?
Was anyone injured?
Is the traffic heavy?
Do I have to remove my clothes?
Will it leave a scar?
Must you go?
Will this be in the papers?
Is my time up already?
Are we seeing the understudy?
Will it affect my eyesight?
Did all the books burn?
Are you still smoking?
Is the bone broken?
Will I have to put him to sleep?
Was the car totaled?
Am I responsible for these charges?
Are you contagious?
Will we have to wait long?
Is the runway icy?
Was the gun loaded?
Could this cause side effects?
Do you know who betrayed you?
Is the wound infected?
Are we lost?
Will it get any worse?

– Jeanne Marie Beaumont

When I am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

– Mary Oliver

From the Book of Time

I.
I rose this morning early as usual, and went to my desk
But it’s spring,

and the thrush is in the woods,
somewhere in the twirled branches, and he is singing.

And so, now, I am standing by the open door.
And now I am stepping down onto the grass.

I am touching a few leaves.
I am noticing the way the yellow butterflies
move together, in a twinkling cloud, over the field.

And I am thinking: maybe just looking and listening
is the real work.

Maybe the world, without us,
is the real poem.

II.
For how many years have you gone through the house
shutting the windows,
while the rain was still five miles away

and veering, o plum-colored clouds, to the north,
away from you

and you did not even know enough
to be sorry,

you were glad
those silver sheets, with the occasional golden staple,

were sweeping on, elsewhere,
violent and electric and uncontrollable–

and will you find yourself finally wanting to forget
all enclosures, including

the enclosure of yourself, o lonely leaf, and will you
dash finally, frantically,

to the windows and haul them open and lean out
to the dark, silvered sky, to everything

that is beyond capture, shouting
I’m here, I’m here! Now, now, now, now, now.

III.
I dreamed
I was traveling

from one country
to another

jogging
on the back
of a white horse
whose hooves

were the music
of dust and gravel
whose halter
was made of the leafy braids

of flowers,
whose name
was Earth.
And it never

grew tired
though the sun
went down
like a thousand roses

and the stars
put their white faces
in front of the black branches
above us

and then
there was nothing around us
but water
and the white horse

turned suddenly
like a bolt of white cloth

opening
under the cloth cutter’s deft hands

and became
a swan.
Its red tongue
flickered out

as it perceived
my great surprise
my huge and unruly pleasure
my almost unmanageable relief… .

IV.
“‘Whoever shall be guided so far towards the mysteries of love, by
contemplating beautiful things rightly in due order, is approaching the last
grade. Suddenly he will behold a beauty marvelous in its nature, that very
Beauty, Socrates, for the sake of which all the earlier hardships had been
borne: in the first place, everlasting, and never being born nor perishing,
neither increasing nor diminishing; secondly, not beautiful here and ugly
there, not beautiful now and ugly then, not beautiful in one direction and
ugly in another direction, not beautiful in one place and ugly in another
place. Again, this beauty will not show itself like a face or hands or any
bodily thing at all, nor as a discourse or a science, nor indeed as residing in
anything, as in a living creature or in earth or heaven or anything else,
but being by itself with itself always in simplicity; while all the beautiful
things elsewhere partake of this beauty in such manner, that when they are
born and perish it becomes neither less nor more and nothing at all
happens to it…‘”

V.
What secrets fly out of the earth
when I push the shovel-edge,
when I heave the dirt open?

And if there are no secrets
what is that smell that sweetness rising?

What is my name,
o what is my name
that I may offer it back
to the beautiful world?

Have I walked
long enough
where the sea breaks raspingly
all day and all night upon the pale sand?

Have I admired sufficiently the little hurricane
of the hummingbird?

the heavy
thumb
of the blackberry?

the falling star?

VI.
Count the roses, red and fluttering.
Count the roses, wrinkled and salt.
Each with its yellow lint at the center.
Each with its honey pooled and ready.
Do you have a question that can’t be answered?
Do the stars frighten you by their heaviness
and their endless number?
Does it bother you, that mercy is so difficult to
understand?
For some souls it’s easy; they lie down on the sand
and are soon asleep.
For others, the mind shivers in its glacial palace,
and won’t come.
Yes, the mind takes a long time, is otherwise occupied
than by happiness, and deep breathing.
Now, in the distance, some bird is singing.
And now I have gathered six or seven deep red,
half-opened cups of petals between my hands,
and now I have put my face against them
and now I am moving my face back and forth, slowly,
against them.
The body is not much more than two feet and a tongue.
Come to me, says the blue sky, and say the word.
And finally even the mind comes running, like a wild thing,
and lies down in the sand.
Eternity is not later, or in any unfindable place.
Roses, roses, roses, roses.

VII.
Even now
I remember something

the way a flower
in a jar of water

remembers its life
in the perfect garden

the way a flower
in a jar of water

remembers its life
as a closed seed

the way a flower
in a jar of water

steadies itself
remembering itself

long ago
the plunging roots

the gravel the rain
the glossy stem

the wings of the leaves
the swords of the leaves

rising and clashing
for the rose of the sun

the salt of the stars
the crown of the wind

the beds of the clouds
the blue dream

the unbreakable circle.

– Mary Oliver

Rain

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

one big thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame

to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,

so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play,

I think to when we opened cold
on a starlit gutter, running gold
with the neon drugstore sign
and I’d read into its blazing line:

forget the ink, the milk, the blood—
all was washed clean with the flood

we rose up from the falling waters

the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters

and none of this, none of this matters.

– Don Paterson

A Note

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes;

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important

– Wislawa Szymborksa

Figs

I held the fruit the way I might have held
a feather, turning it to view each side.
I loved the story of the fig wasp,

Agaonidae, how in each fig’s center
was a wingless and silent creature, disintegrated,
eaten. Led by food to become food. This was

when I still felt whole ownership
of myself, before any part of me was undone.
Before I sat in rooms I could only define

by those who’d left them—flightless and rended.
When I eat a fig, it leaves my throat scratchy
and swollen. The body, whether suddenly

or over time, can develop such an aversion,
held in the place where old and new pain meet.

– Jim Whiteside

Storm

Night squall raging,
black branches
batter every window
as the sky lashes
the city. Without devices,
all I can do is shelter in place
& wait the latest nightmare
out, find other sources
of power as I sit in the dark
save for a candle burning
for my mother writhing
in an ICU & for the world
to make it against all odds.
In every sense, I burn
in the unseen places, head
filling with smoke, each hour
lived in a dense haze.

Millions weather this
21st century unholy
Passover, homes
bereft & singed forever.
The unruly rich in charge
elect themselves
gods, maniacal &
merciless. Every warning
unheeded, no bona fide mark
of protection
this time, no choice
in the losses raining
almost everywhere.

Candlelight for two
is a date; I faintly
remember those.
Candlelight
alone
is a séance—
forgive me,
my dearly departed
for crying out
so often, for still needing you
so damn much.

– Kamila Aisha Moon

Nostos

There was an apple tree in the yard—
this would have been
forty years ago—behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts—
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

– Louise Glück

The Gardener

Have I lived enough?
Have I loved enough?
Have I considered Right Action enough, have I come to any conclusion?
Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?

I say this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it.
Actually, I probably think too much.

Then I step out into the garden,
where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man, 
is tending his children, the roses.

– Mary Oliver