Category Archives: Poetry

What You Missed

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
by Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.

Postcard

“Postcard”
by Olena Kalytiak Davis

Lately, I am capable only of small things.

Is it enough
to feel the heart swimming?

Jim is fine. Our first
garden is thick with spinach
& white radish. Strangely,
it is summer

but also winter & fall.

In response to your asking:
I fill the hours
then lick them shut.

Today, not a single word, but the birds
quietly nodding
as if someone had suggested
moving on.

What is that perfect thing
some one who once believed in god said?

Please don’t misunderstand:
We still suffer, but we are
happy.

A Reckoning

“You Will Never Get Death / Out of Your System”
by Dana Levin

How old is the earth? I asked my machine, and it said: Five great extinctions, one in process, four and a half billion years.

It has always been very busy on Earth: so much coming and going! The terror and the hope ribboning through that.

Death, like a stray dog you kick out of the yard who keeps coming back—its scent of freedom and ruin—

         Some people love death so much they want to give it to everyone.

         Some are more selective.

         Some people don’t know they’re alive.

                 —

Metabolic system, financial system, political system, eco-system—systems management, running around trying to put out fires—

Sodium nitrate. Sodium benzoate. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (to keep the food from rotting). Plastic (surgery). Botox, Viagra, cryo-chamber—

Voting backwards, into what
has already died—

Voting Zombie in the name of “change”—

And everywhere in fortune cookies, the oracular feint of a joke future—

where death is the trick candle on the victory cake.

                 —

Some truths are hard to accept. Especially when they won’t budge beyond a couplet.

Especially when they won’t tell you if they mean you well, if they herald freedom or ruin—

You! You and Death! Lovers who just can’t quit. That’s how we make the future.

The terror and the hope of that, as change goes viral.

The Eucharist of the Ordinary

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.
Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.
So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.

John O’Donohue

Instead

pie porn IV: apple pie baked

The Poet’s Occasional Alternative
by Grace Paley

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead      it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft      a poem would have had some
distance to go      days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it      many friends
will say      why in the world did you
make only one
this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership      I do not
want to wait a week      a year      a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

Visiting Mountains

chief mountain
Chief Mountain, Montana

Visiting Mountains

The plains ignore us,
but these mountains listen,
an audience of thousands
holding its breath
in each rock. Climbing,
we pick our way
over the skulls of small talk.
On the prairies below us,
the grass leans this way and that
in discussion;
words fly away like corn shucks
over the fields.
Here, lost in a mountain’s
attention, there’s nothing to say.

–Ted Kooser

Let Go

She Let Go
-by Rev. Safire Rose

She let go.
Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of fear. She let go of the judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.
She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely,
without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a
book on how to let go… She didn’t search the scriptures.
She just let go.
She let go of all of the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go.
She didn’t journal about it.
She didn’t write the projected date in her day-timer.
She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.
She just let go.
She didn’t analyse whether she should let go.
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.
She didn’t call the prayer line.
She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.
No one was around when it happened.
There was no applause or congratulations.
No one thanked her or praised her.
No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her.
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

Going to the Sun Road

view from going the sun road

This is a photo I took as I traveled the Going to the Sun Road at Glacier National Park. The saturated colors made me ache with wonder.

Unveiled
by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse

To-day the hills put off their haze
And stand so green and clear
That every peak remote and strange
Is intimate and near.

I can make out the very trees
That mass upon their sides,
And look deep into the white cloud
That swift above them rides.

But, oh, I would not have them stand
Unveiled by blowing air;
Give me the blue, blue mists again
That make them far and fair!

On Fear

DSC09894

Fear

It is said that before entering the sea
a river trembles with fear.

She looks back at the path she has traveled,
from the peaks of the mountains,
the long winding road crossing forests and villages.

And in front of her,
she sees an ocean so vast,
that to enter
there seems nothing more than to disappear forever.

But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.

Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

-Khalil Gibran

Leave A Little Light On

My mother was fond of indirect lighting. Small, attractive lamps nestled in various corners of her home. She also kept an electric candle shining all night, every night, in her front window. This is a tradition of welcome she loved, so that anyone who passed by in the dark would feel less lonely and lost.

This song resonated with me because it’s about transition, specifically dying and being born. We are tethered to life by an invisible string that eventually breaks. And miraculously, mysteriously, life takes shape and emerges as well. It’s been a little over four months since Mom died. I miss her.

If the video doesn’t work, here is the link.

The Family

Dear Mom,

You shared with me the two poems you would like read at your services. I have always hoped that I would also be able to read this poem for you. With you, there was always forgiveness. Nourishment of the body and soul. Acknowledgement of despair and pain, balanced with appreciation for small treasures and moments of beauty. All of this was connected, part of the family of things. This poem is for you.

Love,
Wesa

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver

PSX_20191011_184233

Mourning My Mother

bleeding heart

Bleeding hearts from my parents’ garden

During this school-at-home time, Claire and I decided that our science will be to re-watch Cosmos, presented by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. She last saw it about six years ago. We watched the first episode, about the origin of the universe, and how we are star stuff.

Mom loved knowledge. She loved learning things. She was curious. She loved the natural world and science. We often talked about the mystery of what we were before we were born, and what happens after we die. What were we? How do we become conscious? As I listened to Neil describe the marvelous scale of time, I cried. Just steady tears, not big crying.

My teacher advised me to make a ritual, to follow the mourning practice of Zen Buddhist tradition (which is my practice). She recommended that I chant a sutra (doesn’t matter which one) every day for 7 days, and dedicate it each time to my mother, announcing her full name. Then to do this practice on the 14th, 21st, and 49th day of her death. I chose two: the Daihishin Darani, which is a Japanese chant to Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, and the Heart Sutra (below).

I don’t typically light candles in the house, nor do I burn incense; the scent overwhelms other family members. But then I realized I have the perfect ritual. My daily cup of coffee. Mom loved black coffee, as do I. So I make my pour-over coffee, paying attention to each detail. I talk to Mom as it brews. Once it’s ready, I sit down with coffee and my chant book. I take a sip. Then I say, “I dedicate this sutra to Mary Catherine Nicklas Petro” and begin. I choke on the words as my throat thickens. But I do it, and I don’t think overly much about it. It’s not necessary to think. It’s perhaps even detrimental. The process brings a wisp of peace.

I love you, Momma. I miss you.

MAHA PRAJNA PARAMITA HEART SUTRA

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, doing deep prajna paramita,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain,
O Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness,
emptiness is no other than form;
Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form;
Sensation, conception, discrimination,
awareness are likewise like this.
O Shariputra, all dharmas are forms of emptiness,
not born, not destroyed;
Not stained, not pure, without loss, without gain;
So in emptiness there is no form, no sensation,
conception, discrimination, awareness;
No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena;
No realm of sight . . . no realm of consciousness;
No ignorance and no end to ignorance . . .
No old age and death, and no end to old age and death;
No suffering, no cause of suffering, no extinguishing, no path;
No wisdom and no gain. No gain and thus
The bodhisattva lives prajna paramita
With no hindrance in the mind, no hindrance, therefore no fear,
Far beyond deluded thoughts, this is nirvana.
All past, present, and future Buddhas live prajna paramita,
And therefore attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.
Therefore know, prajna paramita is
The great mantra, the vivid mantra,
The best mantra, the unsurpassable mantra;
It completely clears all pain — this is the truth, not a lie.
So set forth the Prajna Paramita Mantra,
Set forth this mantra and say:

Gate! Gate! Paragate! Parasamgate!
Bodhi svaha. Prajna Heart Sutra.

Hope For Spring

I grew up going camping all over the U.S. My parents loved camping and instilled it in me. My mother loved growing things. She was a master gardener. She had hoped to make it to see one more spring. This poem is another one she would like read at her service.

Spring

I said in my heart, “I am sick of four walls and a
ceiling.
I have need of the sky.
I have business with the grass.
I will up and get me away where the hawk
is wheeling,
Lone and high,
And the slow clouds go by.
I will get me away to the waters that glass
The clouds as they pass,
To the waters that lie
Like the heart of a maiden aware of a
doom drawing
nigh
And dumb for sorcery of impending joy.
I will get me away to the woods.
Spring, like a huntsman’s boy,
Halloos along the hillsides and unhoods
The falcon in my will.
The dogwood calls me, and the sudden thrill
That breaks in apple blooms down country
roads
Plucks me by the sleeve and nudges me away.
The sap is in the boles to-day,
And in my veins a pulse that yearns and goads.”
When I got to the woods, I found out
What the Spring was about.

–Richard Hovey

two medicine

Two Medicine, Glacier National Park

A Message From My Mother

In recent conversations, Mom shared with me several poems she would love to be read at her service. Since we don’t know when that will be, due to travel restrictions and pandemic, I thought I’d share here. This is the first one.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

–Mary Elizabeth Frye

MacKerricher State Park 2019

mackerricher state park