Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles,
it empties today of its strengths. – Corrie Ten Boom
Since I was girl child, I was never a Boy Scout. I learned the hard way that “be prepared” was a really good idea. I also learned there are some things in life that blindside you, so you need to develop resilience as a back-up plan.
So my husband and I have prepared ourselves for earthquakes, fires, floods, and basic first aid, and have some plans for riots (we lived through one of those, which came uncomfortably close to our doorstep, but passed by).
A global pandemic – well, this we hadn’t discussed. I guess we figured the CDC, FEMA and WHO would tell us what we needed to do, and they’d take care of the big stuff.
We didn’t plan for the orange menace/GOP clusterf*ck. And we should have.
So now our resilience, indeed the resilience of Humankind, is being tested.
Time for some Poetry of Encouragement.
Let’s begin with two of the most well-known:
by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
“Invictus” from Poems: William Earnest Henley, issued in 2018 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), was an English poet, critic and editor, remembered now mostly for one poem, Invictus. At the age of 12, he began a battle with tuberculosis of the bone. His left leg was amputated below the knee in 1868. The poem is a testimony to his refusal to let either illness or handicap overcome him. Robert Louis Stevenson, after Treasure Island was published, wrote in a letter to Henley: “It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver … the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.” Henley was described by Lloyd Osborne as “ . . . a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled like music; he had an unimaginable fire and vitality; he swept one off one’s feet.” When his right foot became diseased, he refused to have it amputated, undergoing a difficult three-year treatment by Joseph Lister at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh instead. In 1894 Margaret, his beloved only child, died at the age of five. As an editor of a series of literary magazines and journals, Henley had significant influence on the literature of the Late Victorian age. He fell from a railway carriage in 1902, and the injury caused a flare-up of his latent tuberculosis. He died at age 53 the following year.
by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
“If” from Kipling: Poems, 2013 pocket edition from Everyman’s Library
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) English author, poet and journalist; born in Bombay, India to British parents. In 1871, he and his 3-year old sister were put in the care of a couple in Southsea, England, and didn’t see their parents again for five years. At 12, he went to the United Services College at Westward Ho in North Devon. At 16, he returned to India to become a journalist, and also filled seven volumes with stories about his experiences in India. At 24, he came back to England, and quickly became a literary celebrity. He married an American, Caroline Wolcott, and moved to the U.S. in 1891, where he wrote The Jungle Book and most of Captains Courageous, which added even more to his popularity. In 1899, the family moved to Sussex, England, where he wrote Kim, Just So Stories, and Puck of Pooks Hill. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. Because his work was so associated with the zenith of the British Empire, which was already declining by the time of his death in 1936, literary and historical opinion about Kipling’s work is deeply divided. He remains a consummate storyteller, and much of his work continues to be popular with the reading public.
But we also need to take a hard look at where we are, and this poem matches up with my alternating feelings of despair, frustration and hope:
by Ada Limón
After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.
“The Leash” from The Carrying, © 2016 by Ada Limón – Milkweed Editions
Ada Limón (1976 – ) is the author of Lucky Wreck (2006); This Big Fake World: A Story in Verse (2006); Sharks in the Rivers (2010); and Bright Dead Things (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. The Carrying (2018) won the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. She splits her time between Lexington, Kentucky, and her home town, Sonoma, California.
Here’s some encouragement from the inimitable Maya Angelou:
Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
“Still I Rise” from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, © 1994 by Maya Angelou – Random House
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis Missouri. She was an American poet, memoirist and civil rights activist. She published three books of essays, several books of poetry, and also wrote plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. Her best-known work remains the first of her seven memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She is also noted for “On the Pulse of Morning,” the poem she recited at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. Angelou was honored in 2011 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I always feel stronger “at the broken places” after reading this poem:
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
“Kindness” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, © 1994 by Naomi Shihab Nye – Far Corner Books/Eighth Mountain Press
Naomi Shihab Nye (1952 -) was born in St.Louis, Missouri. Daughter of a father who came to America as a Palestinian refugee, and an America mother. “I grew up in St. Louis in a tiny house full of large music – Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson singing majestically on the stereo, my German-American mother fingering ‘The Lost Chord’ on the piano as golden light sank through trees, my Palestinian father trilling in Arabic in the shower each dawn.” During her teens, Shihab Nye lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and in San Antonio, Texas, where she received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University. Shihab Nye has published over 20 books, including poetry, novels and essays. In 2019, she was appointed as the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.
And this poem, with its Zen-like quality, was an unexpected reminder that nothing lasts forever.
by Edward Thomas
Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.
“Thaw” from The Collected Poems of Edward Thomas, 1978 edition – Oxford University Press
Edward Thomas (1878-1917) was a British poet, essayist and novelist born in Lambeth, Surrey. He is now mostly remembered as a WWI poet, but he had an established career as a writer and critic before the war, and the majority of his poetry is not about the war. In 1915, at the age of 37, he enlisted in the British Army, and was killed in action during the Battle of Arras on the Western Front, April 9, 1917.