my birthday present

my birthday present
My awesome birthday present 1/26/11 (see story under my first post)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More Mary Karr

Descending Theology: The Garden
~Mary Karr
We know he was a man because, once doomed,
   he begged for reprieve. See him
grieving on his rock under olive trees,
   his companions asleep
on the hard ground around him
   wrapped in old hides.
Not one stayed awake as he'd asked.
   That went through him like a sword.
He wished with all his being to stay
   but gave up
bargaining at the sky. He knew
   it was all mercy anyhow,
unearned as breath. The Father couldn't intervene,
   though that gaze was never
not rapt, a mantle around him. This
   was our doing, our death.
The dark prince had poured the vial of poison
   into the betrayer's ear,
and it was done. Around the oasis where Jesus wept,
   the cracked earth radiated out for miles.
In the green center, Jesus prayed for the pardon
   of Judas, who was approaching
with soldiers, glancing up—as Christ was—into
   the punctured sky till his neck bones
ached. Here is his tear-riven face come
   to press a kiss on his brother.
"Descending Theology: The Garden" by Mary Karr from Sinners Welcome: Poems. © Harper Collins Publishers.
I discovered that Mary Karr has a series of poems entitled Descending Theology.  I selected the one above because I thought it was an interesting contrast to Oliver’s Gethsemane. The words and images in the following poem Descending Theology: the Resurrection, left a strange impression on me.  Initially I did not like the poem and was certain I did not “get it.” But I found myself returning to it, wanting to understand why it had a grip on me. I shared it with Marie and she said she liked it even better than The Grand Miracle and she suggested I post it. I found an analysis of it here, which I found very interesting and helpful.

Descending Theology: The Resurrection
~Mary Karr
From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in — black ice and squid ink —
till the hung flesh was empty.
Lonely in that void even for pain,
he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse's core, the stone fist
of his heart began to bang
on the stiff chest's door, and breath spilled
back into that battered shape. Now

it's your limbs he comes to fill, as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

"Descending Theology: The Resurrection" by Mary Karr from Sinners Welcome: Poems. © Harper Collins Publishers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter Poems

~Mary Oliver
The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn't move,
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.
“Gethsemene” by Mary Oliver from Thirst Beacon Press, 2006.

The Grand Miracle
          ~Mary Karr

for John Holohan

Jesus wound up with his body nailed to a tree—
a torment he practically begged for,   
or at least did nothing to stop. Pilate

watched the crowd go thumbs down   
and weary, signed the order.   
So centurions laid Jesus flat

on a long beam, arms run along the crosspiece.   
In each palm a long spike was centered,   
a stone chosen to drive it. (Skin

tears; the bones start to split.)   
Once the cross got propped up,   
the body hung heavy, a carcass—

in carne, the Latin poets say, in meat.   
(—The breastbone a ship’s prow . . .)   
At the end the man cried out

as men cry. (Tears that fill the eyes   
grow dark drop and by drop: One   
cries out.) On the third day,

the stone rolled back, to reveal   
no corpse. History is rife
with such hoaxes. (Look at Herodotus.)

As to whether he multiplied
loaves and fishes, that’s common enough.   
Poke seed-corn in a hole and see if more corn

doesn’t grow. Two fish in a pond   
make more fishes. The altar of reason
supports such extravagance. (I don’t even know

how electricity works, but put trust   
in light switches.) And the prospect   
of love cheers me up, as gospel.

That some creator might strap on
an animal mask to travel our path between birth   
and ignominious death—now that

makes me less lonely. And the rising up
at the end into glory—the white circle of bread   
on the meat of each tongue that God

might enter us. For 2000-near years   
my tribe has lined up at various altars,
so dumbly I open this mouth for bread and song.

Mary Karr, “The Grand Miracle” from Viper Rum. Copyright © 1998 by Mary Karr. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Mary Karr has  a reputation for being both "courageous and combative." Her childhood and early adulthood were filled with mental illness (her mother), violence, neglect, and substance abuse(alcoholic father ). She has an interesting essay called Facing Altars, Poetry and Prayer at the Poetry Foundation if you’d like to read more about her.  Here she explains she went from being an agnostic alcoholic to converting to Catholicism. She has what I would describe as a fierce, sometimes disturbing, style of writing that appeals to many.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Is Prayer Poetry?

Prayer by Elie Wiesel
I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.

I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.

I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.

As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.

They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

(This prayer originally appeared in a diary and was included in Weisel’s collection One Generation After.)
“Literature and prayer have much in common. Both take everyday words and give them meaning. Both appeal to what is most personal and most transcendent in a human being. Both are rooted in the most obscure and mysterious zone of our being, nourished by anguish and fervor.” ~Elie Weisel 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

33 words

I am in the middle of my 8th grade research project on the holocaust. It is always difficult, actually gut wrenching, to delve into this each year. It is mind boggling to think this happened in the 1940’s.  I came across this incredible poem last month.  The first time I read it, I got chills.

Examine what Dan Pagis was able to do with just 33 words. 

To understand this poem one needs little more than a basic knowledge of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel and the knowledge that Jews were taken by cattle car to the concentration camps.

What I find fascinating about this poem is that,  it is what’s left unsaid that makes this such a powerful piece.

written in pencil in the sealed railway car
here in this carload
I am eve
with abel my son
if you see my older son
cain son of adam
tell him that I

~Dan Pagis~

I am presently “reading” (actually listening to) the book Night by Elie Weisel, undoubtedly the most well known and prolific writer of all holocaust survivors. You  must read this book.
I looked up quotes by Weisel and found hundreds. Here is one of the better known, which I have laid on the page in the form of a poem.

The opposite of love is not hate
 it’s indifference
The opposite of art is not ugliness
 it’s indifference
The opposite of faith is not heresy
 it’s indifference
And the opposite of life is not death
 it’s indifference.
 ~ Elie Wiesel

He said this too about indifference. 

Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil. ~ Elie Wiesel

Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. ~ Elie Wiesel


Sunday, April 10, 2011

What you resist, persists

This week I have been reading a book by Pema Chodron  titled Always Maintain a Joyful Mind. It comes with a cd that explains  tonglen, defined in the following excerpt from her book When Things Fall Apart.

 “In tonglen practice, when we see or feel suffering, we breathe in with the notion of completely feeling it, accepting it, and owning it. Then we breathe out, radiating compassion, loving kindness, freshness; anything that encourages relaxation and openness.”

Chodron was born in the US then converted to Buddhism and then became a Buddhist nun. She writes extensively and conducts workshops and retreats. For more detailed explanation click here.

The basic premise is to fully accept the pain we encounter in life, which is of course, counterintuitive. Humans instinctively avoid pain and discomfort of any kind. It struck me though,  that this technique is  essentially the same as the philosophy of Rumi in Guest House.  I looked through my stash of poems and found two more poets echoing the same idea.  I think it is interesting to see the  premise of Buddhist tonglen in Rumi,  a 13th century Sufi mystic, in Rilke, a German (1875-1926) and in a contemporary psychotherapist,  Jennifer
Welwood . Carl Jung said that which you resist, persists. Ekhart Tolle advices that we “accept what is.”  No doubt great advice, but very hard to do.
Guest House
This being human is a guesthouse.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight …
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~
Part One, Sonnet IV
You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins behind you.
Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.
Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.
The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.
(In Praise of Mortality, translated and edited by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

- Jennifer Welwood

Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master Game.
To play it is purest delight;
To honor its form--true devotion.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Food for Thought

These poems will give you something to think about.

Why I'm Here
Jacqueline Berger

Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I'm here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the '50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn't work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn't eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she'd rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I'm here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.

It's good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn't really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn't have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I've taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father's job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We've been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It's right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.

from The Gift That Arrives Broken.
© Autumn House Press, 2010

I am at an interesting juncture in my life right now,  one experience seems to open a door to the next opportunity  in ways that are totally unanticipated. So I find Why I'm Here particulary fun to read.

You're gonna love the gem that ends this next poem, The Imagined !!  

The Imagined
By Stephen Dunn
If the imagined woman makes the real woman
seem bare-boned, hardly existent, lacking in
gracefulness and intellect and pulchritude,
and if you come to realize the imagined woman
can only satisfy your imagination, whereas
the real woman with all her limitations
can often make you feel good, how, in spite
of knowing this, does the imagined woman
keep getting into your bedroom, and joining you
at dinner, why is it that you always bring her along
on vacations when the real woman is shopping,
or figuring the best way to the museum?
                     And if the real woman
has an imagined man, as she must, someone
probably with her at this very moment, in fact
doing and saying everything she’s ever wanted,
would you want to know that he slips in
to her life every day from a secret doorway
she’s made for him, that he’s present even when
you’re eating your omelette at breakfast,
or do you prefer how she goes about the house
as she does, as if there were just the two of you?
Isn’t her silence, finally, loving? And yours
not entirely self-serving? Hasn’t the time come,
                     once again, not to talk about it?
(in the March 14, 2011 edition of The New Yorker.)
 Check out the new quote of the day.
Thanks for reading

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Decision Point

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

~ John O'Donohue ~

(To Bless the Space Between Us)

Last night I was reading from John O’Donohue’s book To Bless the Space Between Us, and I came across this poem. I immediately thought of The Journey by Mary Oliver. I think they are basically saying the same thing, but isn’t it interesting to see the different approaches they take in delivering similar messages.   O’Donohue's poem is gentle and patient, suggesting the process of awakening to new possibilities is natural and perhaps inevitable. Oliver’s poem suggests you have come to the end of the road, perhaps a crisis, and must make a decision; there is a definite urgency in her poem. Do you find yourself drawn more to one poem than the other? As for me, I get a great deal from each of them.   

The Journey
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 voices 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.
Mary Oliver
(Dream Work & New and Selected Poems Vol. 1)