seven poems for a pilgrim’s backpack

Georgia O'Keeffe, Winter Road 1, 1963

1

Traveller, your footprints are
the only path, the only track:
wayfarer, there is no way,
there is no map or Northern Star,
just a blank page and a starless dark;
and should you turn around to admire
the distance that you’ve made today
the road will billow into dust.
No way on and no way back,
there is no way, my comrade: trust
your own quick step, the end’s delay,
the vanished trail of your own wake,
wayfarer, sea-walker, Christ.

– Road, by Don Paterson, from The Eyes, A Version of Antonio Machado.

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2

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.

– When I Am Among the Trees, by Mary Oliver, from Devotions

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3

Thinking of the stars night after night I begin to realize
The stars are words

and all the innumerable worlds in the Milky Way are words,
and so is this world too.

And I realize that no matter where I am,
whether in a little room full of thought,

or in this endless universe of stars and mountains,
it’s all in my mind.

– Jack Kerouac, from Lonesome Traveller

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4

Yes
It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon.  It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out — no guarantees
in this life.
But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

– William Stafford, from The Way It Is

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5

We’re in a freefall into future.
We don’t know where we’re going.
Things are changing so fast
And always when you’re going through a long tunnel,
anxiety comes along.

All you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise
is to turn your fall into a voluntary act.

It’s a very interesting shift of perspective.
Joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world
and everything changes.

– Joseph Campbell, from Sukhavati, A Mythic Journey
[Not really a poem, but exquisitely poetic…]

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6

Praise the wet snow
falling early.
Praise the shadow
my neighor’s chimney casts on the tile roof
even this gray October day that should, they say,
have been golden.
Praise
the invisible sun burning beyond
the white cold sky, giving us
light and the chimney’s shadow.
Praise
god or the gods, the unknown,
that which imagined us, which stays
our hand,
our murderous hand,
and gives us
still,
in the shadow of death,
our daily life,
and the dream still
of goodwill, of peace on earth.
Praise
flow and change, night and
the pulse of day.

iiGloria, by Denise Levertov, from Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus

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7

Wayfarer,

Your whole mind and body have been tied
To the foot of the Divine Elephant
With a thousand golden chains.

Now, begin to rain intelligence and compassion
Upon all your tender, wounded cells

And realise the profound absurdity
Of thinking

That you can ever go Anywhere
Or do Anything

Without God’s will.

– Wayfarer, by Hafiz, from I Heard God Laughing, Renderings of Hafiz, by Daniel Ladinsky.

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Image:
Georgia O’Keeffe, Winter Road 1, 1963.  Oil on canvas, 55.9 x 45.7 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington DC


Notes:
It’s been many months since I last posted on this blog.  Life took me down unexpected trails, unfolded adventures in another country, locked me up in the most gracious way imaginable and then threw me into quarantine on the return.  Poems kept me company – poems of all shapes and sizes, from all cultures and times.  These seven are just a few favourites from my own backpack.  (I’d need a truck to carry all my favorites!)

During the lockdown in New Zealand, I posted poems on my Facebook page using the tags #likerightnow and #lockdownpoems.  As my engagement with that platform diminishes, I’m moved to share a few poems here, on this little blog that’s been languishing of late.  As a personal archive, if nothing else.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether it’s time to retire this blog.  (It has chugged along since May, 2009 – almost eleven years of learning and sharing.)  But there’s an enormous archive of material here.  Recently I revisited some posts written over a decade ago and was astonished to find so little I would change.  Back in those days the blog had barely any subscribers and few readers – there was no feedback in the form of ‘likes’ or comments.  I had much to learn about writing code and inserting images.  But while I’m now posting my own poetry and writing on the echoes from emptiness blog, I’m considering re-posting some of these old pieces of writing – in case they speak to someone’s thoughts or questions.

Whether that eventuates or not, I’d like to thank all the beautiful subscribers to, and readers of, this blog – your company over the years has been priceless.  

– miriam louisa


poem of the one world

Mary Oliver.  A Kōtuku.  Belonging.  Beauty.  Rapture.

 

Kōtuku in flight photographed by Paul Knight.

 

This morning

the beautiful white heron

was floating along above the water

 

and then into the sky of this

the one world

we all belong to

 

where everything

sooner or later

is part of everything else

 

which thought made me feel

for a little while

quite beautiful myself.

 

Mary Oliver
A Thousand Mornings

 


 

Kōtuku – New Zealand White Heron, photographed by Paul Knight.

The eastern great egret (Ardea alba modesta) is highly endangered in New Zealand, with only one breeding site at Okarito Lagoon.  This species was almost exterminated to satisfy the demand for feathers for women’s hats.  By 1941 there were only four nests at its breeding site in Okarito when it was declared a reserve and patrolled.  The feathers of Kōtuku and Huia were highly prized by Maori, who used them to adorn the heads of chiefs.

 


out here

Out Here - Chuck Surface
 
 
I like it out here, where no one can see,
Far from any notion of myself.
Here, I am no one, and yet, I Am.
 
 
Out here I am Unclothed.
Can you imagine the Delight,
Leaving that scratchy garment behind?
 
 
Out here no intercessor stands,
Between the arising and the arisen,
Between Heaven and Earth.
 
 
Out here I am far away,
From the raucous din and clamor,
Of the spiritual bazaar.
 
 
“Shhh!” We don’t debate out here,
Where “Truth” is a word,
In a land where no language is spoken.
 
 
Out here I care nothing,
For what others think of what I think,
For I care nothing of what I think.
 
 
Out here thought and feeling arise,
Only thinker and feeler are lost,
And the River Flows, undammed.
 
 
What Rapture, out here,
Where I Exist without existing,
In the Answer to every Prayer ever uttered.
 
 
What a Blessing to discover,
Out here,
In Here.
 
 
– Chuck Surface
 

And there was endlessness

The wholeness of undivided, intimate attention – an awareing that has no boundaries, no sense of separation, where observer and observed are both obliterated in a single movement of observing – is the subject of one of Denise Levertov‘s last poems, First Love.  The whole poem is sublime, but the final few lines speak so powerfully to me that I’m singling them out for this post.

It seems to me that one taste of that timelessness changes everything. This is not some cunning escape into yet another thought-bubble; not some desperate effort to transcend one’s mediocre little life. This is an experienced glimpse of another order of relationship. Haven’t we all had this glimpse? For me, it took hold of the steering wheel and has driven the trajectory of my life.

Through the entirety of your lifetime, what is it that you’ve deeply desired?

What has been – is – the Great Motivator of your days?

 

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968)

 
 
[…]

`Convolvulus,’ said my mother.
Pale shell-pink, a chalice
no wider across than a silver sixpence.

It looked at me, I looked
back, delight
filled me as if
I, not the flower,
were a flower and were brimful of rain.
And there was endlesness.
Perhaps through a lifetime what I’ve desired
has always been to return
to that endless giving and receiving, the wholeness
of that attention,
that once-in-a-lifetime
secret communion.

 

– Denise Levertov, from First Love
 in This Great Unknowing, Last Poems

 


Painting by Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968), Morning Glories (Convolvulus)


 

now is the time

Sometimes a poem demands a visual counterpart; sometimes an image demands a poem; occasionally the symbiosis is stunning.  

This much-loved poem from Hafiz paired with Scott Morgan‘s sublime photograph delivers me to a View that is boundless.  

I dance there, breathe there, and I am grateful for this Grace.

 

Photograph by Scott Morgan

 

Now is the time to know

That all that you do is sacred.

 

Now, why not consider

A lasting truce with yourself and God.

 

Now is the time to understand

That all your ideas of right and wrong

Were just a child’s training wheels

To be laid aside

When you finally live

With veracity

And love.

 

Hafiz is a divine envoy

Whom the Beloved

Has written a holy message upon.

 

My dear, please tell me,

Why do you still

Throw sticks at your heart

And God?

 

What is it in that sweet voice inside

That incites you to fear?

 

Now is the time for the world to know

That every thought and action is sacred.

 

This is the time for you to compute the impossibility

That there is anything

But grace.

 

Now is the season to know

That everything you do

Is sacred.

 

– Hafiz

 


Today, by Hafiz. From the The Gift: Poems of Hafiz as rendered by Daniel Ladinsky.

Image: Scott Morgan – www.thissimplegrace.com


 

I could have been a cloud on Jupiter

When the inevitability of one’s life-package and its path becomes evident and one realises that nothing could possibly be other-than-it-is, the sweetest awe and appreciation flood into the space left empty by the imaginary controller.  It’s often misunderstood, this disappearance of the doer, and explained away with all manner of hypothetical imaginings. Actually, it isn’t understandable or able to be conceptualised by means of any erudite definition or name.  Best then, to leave the labels alone and keep silent unless confessing one’s own experience.  

Wislawa Szymborska’s poem didn’t fall from my own pen, but it expresses to perfection the astonishment and gratefulness I experience as I reflect upon the wondrous “coincidence” of the life-pack I call mine.  This is probably my favourite poem of 2017.


Clouds on Jupiter photographed by NASA's Juno

 

I am who I am.
A coincidence no less unthinkable
than any other.
 
I could have different
ancestors, after all.
I could have fluttered
from another nest
or crawled bescaled
from another tree.
 
Nature’s wardrobe
holds a fair
supply of costumes:
Spider, seagull, fieldmouse.
each fits perfectly right off
and is dutifully worn
into shreds.
 
I didn’t get a choice either,
but I can’t complain.
I could have been someone
much less separate.
someone from an anthill, shoal, or buzzing swarm,
an inch of landscape ruffled by the wind.
 
Someone much less fortunate,
bred for my fur
or Christmas dinner,
something swimming under a square of glass.
 
A tree rooted to the ground
as the fire draws near.
 
A grass blade trampled by a stampede
of incomprehensible events.
 
A shady type whose darkness
dazzled some.
What if I’d prompted only fear,
Loathing,
or pity?
 
If I’d been born
in the wrong tribe
with all roads closed before me?
 
Fate has been kind
to me thus far.
 
I might never have been given
the memory of happy moments
 
My yen for comparison
might have been taken away.
 
I might have been myself minus amazement,
that is,
someone completely different.

– Wislawa Szymborska

 


Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska


Photograph of clouds on Jupiter, courtesy of NASA.


 

I see you

Particle tracks on film from the Fermilab Bubble Chamber

 

If I should seek to know the thought-free state
all I need do is gaze into your eyes
every being who ever was, is, or will be
gazes back; I am gazing back, even though
I am not a being, not a thought, not conceivable
or perceivable, not even a secret godly whisper
shimmering in the stillness, nor anything
I thought I was, you were, we are.

I cannot see myself except through you,
you who live to share this same silent vision,
this eternal gaze expanding, always becoming
more than sight, more than any kind of knowing —
a fluid wordless epiphany emerging from nowhere,
the same place we inhabit now in our loving, this
exquisite loving without location or circumference,
and even though we never move, yet forever we are
circling in lazy liquid orbits around each other,
never once allowing our gaze to falter,
never even blinking

– Bob O’Hearn


These links open in new tabs:

Source: Bob’s blog feeling into infinity

Image: Particle tracks on film from the Fermilab Bubble Chamber, sourced from the wondrous sagan*sense blog