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.
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.
– John Greenleaf Whittier,
American poet and abolitionist
Poems are heart and soul made legible.
– Elizabeth Alexander, American poet,
2010 Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement,
and author of The Venus Hottentot
“When I began to listen to poetry, it’s when I began to listen to the stones, and I began to listen to what the clouds had to say, and I began to listen to other. And I think, most importantly for all of us, then you begin to learn to listen to the soul, the soul of yourself in here, which is also the soul of everyone else.
– Joy Harjo, first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, and
author of An American Sunrise
I am a collector and repository of words. And since so many of the most wonderful words are found in poetry, a lot of my reading hours are spent in poetry. Yes, in poetry, because you have to sink into poetry, like a swimmer immerses in water, to truly be transformed by its miraculous powers.
We are all going through hell – Winston Churchill tells us to keep going, Robert Frost says the only way out is through, and Naomi Shihab Nye asks of an elder elk, Tell us how to balance our lives on this hard edge of human mean.
Here are some signposts in the fog of wavering hope that shrouds us.
The Laughing Heart
by Charles Bukowski
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life
know it while you have it
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
“The Laughing Heart” from The Laughing Heart, © 1992 by Charles Bukowski – Black Sparrow Press
Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in the Wiemar Republic, German-American poet, novelist and short story writer whose father was an American serving in Germany after WWI. His family moved to the U.S. in 1923, and settled in Los Angeles, California. He was bullied at school for his heavy German accent, and his father frequently beat him, so he became a heavy drinker while still in his early teens. Bukowski didn’t become a full-time writer until he was in his late forties, when he accepted an offer from John Martin at Black Sparrow Press. Among his many poetry collections are Love Is a Dog from Hell; War All the Time; You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense; and The Roominghouse Madrigals.
by Mary Oliver
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And I gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
“I Worried” from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, © 2010 by Mary Oliver – Beacon Press
Mary Oliver (1935–2019) American poet. She won the 1992 National Book Award for New and Selected Poems, and the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive. In 2007 The New York Times described her as “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” Oliver’s poems connect us with the natural world with a child’s sense of wonder, and the wisdom of a real grown-up.
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
“The Peace of Wild Things” from New Collected Poems © 2012 by Wendell Berry – Counterpoint
Wendell Berry (1934− ) American essayist, novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer. He was born in Henry County, Kentucky, the oldest of four children. Both his parents came from families that had farmed the area for at least five generations. In 1958, he won a fellowship to Stanford University’s creative writing program, studying under Wallace Stegner in a seminar that included Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, Ernest Gaines, Tillie Olsen, and Ken Kesey. Berry published his first novel, Nathan Coulter, in 1960. He has gone on to write more novels, essay collections, and several books of poetry. Berry has long been an opponent of war, nuclear power, and the increasing human plundering of the planet’s natural resources. He has been honored with dozens of awards, including the National Humanities Medal in 2010, and the 2016 Sidney Lanier Prize.
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.
“The Way It Is” from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems, © 1994 by William Stafford – Graywolf Press
William Stafford (1914-1993) was a prolific poet who was born in Kansas, and wrote many poems about the Midwest and Western America; during WWII, he was a conscientious objector. His book Traveling Through the Dark won the 1970 National Book Award for Poetry, and he won the Robert Frost Medal in 1993.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers (314)
by Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
“‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers” from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin – © 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College – Harvard University Press
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) America’s best-known woman poet and one of the nation’s greatest and most original authors, lived the life of a recluse in Amherst Massachusetts. She wrote nearly 1800 poems, ignoring the traditional poetic forms prevailing among most of the other poets of her day. The extent of her work wasn’t known until after her death, when her younger sister Lavinia discovered her huge cache of poems,
by Naomi Shihab Nye
At the 100-year-old National Elk Refuge
near Jackson Hole, we might ask,
How long does an elk live?
Who’s an old elk here?
We’d like to spend time
with an elder elk please.
Tell us how to balance our lives
on this hard edge of human mean,
mean temperatures, what we do and don’t
want to mean.
Closing the door
to the news will only make you
stupid, snapped my friend
who wanted everyone to know as much
as she did. I’m hiding in old school books
with information we never used yet.
Before I drove, before I flew,
before the principal went to jail.
Sinking my eyes into tall wooden
window sashes, dreaming of light
arriving from far reaches,
our teacher as shepherds,
school a vessel of golden hope,
you could lift your daily lesson
in front of your eyes,
stare hard and think,
this will take me
somewhere. O histories of India,
geological formations of Australia,
ancient poetries of China, Japan,
someday we will be aligned in a place
of wisdom, together.
Red deer, wapiti, running elk rising
above yellow meadows at sundown.
An elk bows her head. In the company
of other elk, she feels at home.
And we are lost on the horizon now,
deeper into the next century than we
can even believe,
and they will not speak to us.
“Elementary” from The Tiny Journalist, © 2019 by Naomi Shihab Nye – BOA Editions, Ltd
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, © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye’s father was a Palestinian refuge. She was born in St.Louis, Missouri. “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, she lived in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, and the Old City in Jerusalem. 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.
There’s a reason poets often say, ‘Poetry saved my life,’ for often the blank page is the only one listening to the soul’s suffering, the only one registering the story completely, the only one receiving all softly and without condemnation.
– Clarissa Pinkola Estes, American poet, psychoanalyst, post-trauma specialist, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves