Aimless Love: a poem by Billy Collins

Aimless Love
by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lake shore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door—
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor—
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

Original source: Billy Collins, Nine Horses, Pan Macmillan and Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003, accessed via Pan Macmillan on 9 August 2018. Continue reading

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The Journey: a poem by Mary Oliver

Here is a poem that Spring Washam included in her 2017 book, A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage, And Wisdom in Any Moment. I love how it dovetails with William Stafford’s The Way It Is:

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations —
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Continue reading

The problem with sharing poetry on the internet: how to properly cite poems found online

I’ve been taking Buddhism classes at the Auckland Buddhist Centre almost nonstop since the beginning of the year, and on top of that, have been reading a lot of books by / about / for people committed to living Buddhist practices more fully. One of the unexpected results of this activity is that I am regularly encountering poems that are both “old friends” and many that are completely new to me.

These days I’m far more interested in keeping track of my favorite poems than I have been in the past. As someone who appreciates both accuracy and giving credit where credit is due, sharing poems on the internet feels fraught with peril… and it gets worse when I’m often using the internet to track down poems I encounter in the wild, remembering only fragments. Copyright infringement and amplification of errors and misattribution, Oh My!

Example: the Countee Cullen poem I shared recently is actually quite a bit longer than the portion that I (and many other people before me) shared online. I certainly didn’t realize how much more there is to it until I went looking for a reputable source; I considered including the whole thing in my post, but in the end opted to reproduce the “error,” Continue reading

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters: a poem by Portia Nelson

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I walk down the street.
            There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
            I fall in.
            I am lost … I am helpless.
                       It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

Chapter II
I walk down the same street.
            There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
            I pretend I don’t see it.
            I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
                        But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III
I walk down the same street.
            There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
            I see it is there.
            I still fall in … it’s a habit.
                       My eyes are open.
                       I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.
            There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
            I walk around it.

Chapter V
I walk down another street.

Continue reading

The Solstice is Our Anniversary

The paradoxical thing about monogamy, for me at least, is that it took someone who doesn’t insist upon it to inspire me to live it so willingly.

Read on for two poems (one that speaks to the inevitably-ephemeral nature of relationships, and one that speaks to the phenomenon I described above), the story about how Scott and I came to find ourselves in a relationship the second time around, and a bit of Wendell Berry’s ever-inspiring wisdom. Continue reading

The Way It Is: a poem by William Stafford

The Way It Is
by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.