TCS: Life Suggests That You Remember – Poems for Gratitude Day

. . Good Morning!

  

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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.

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At times our own light goes out and is
rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep
gratitude of those who have lighted
the flame within us.

– Albert Schweitzer

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September 21 is World Gratitude Day, which started in
1965 in Hawaii at an international gathering, and then was
spread when the attendees brought the idea home with them.

There seems to be a growing delusion among people who’ve
achieved some success, especially financial success, that they did it “all on their own” and “nobody helped them.” Yet if you talk to these people about their lives, invariably there are people who inspired them, who took them seriously, who challenged or encouraged them, who believed in their potential, or gave them the first break which started them on their road to success.

The overwhelming majority of us live in densely interconnected societies – those who go off entirely on their own are the least likely to achieve great things, unless they use the lessons which solitude has taught them, while returning to reconnect with their fellow humans.

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Visiting Pai-an Pavilion

by Hsieh Ling-yun

Beside this dike, I shake off the world’s dust,
enjoying walks alone near my brushwood house.

A small stream gurgles down a rocky gorge.
Mountains rise beyond the trees,

kingfisher blue, almost beyond description,
but reminding me of the fisherman’s simple life.

From a grassy bank, I listen
as springtime fills my heart.

Finches call and answer in the oaks.
Deer cry out, then return to munching weeds.

I remember men who knew a hundred sorrows,
and the gratitude they felt for gifts.

Joy and sorrow pass, each by each,
failure at one moment, happy success the next.

But not for me. I have chosen freedom
from the world’s cares. I chose simplicity.


“Visiting Pai-an Pavilion” from Crossing the Yellow River: Three Hundred Poems from the Chinese, translation © 2000 by Sam Hamill – Tiger Bark Press

Hsieh Ling-yun, also spelled Xie Lingyun (385-433) was a prominent writer, philosopher, and poet of the Six Dynasties era, most famous for his “mountain and steams” poetry, and as a developer of shanshui (landscape poems). He was the scion of an aristocratic house, and became an official under the Eastern Jin and Liu-Song  dynasties, but factional intrigues led to his frequent dismissal and exile, until he was executed at the age of 48 in 433.

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Two Countries

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers–silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.


“Two Countries” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye – Far Corner Books

Naomi Shihab Nye (1952 – ), American poet and writer, born in St. Louis, Missouri; her father was a Palestinian refuge. “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. She has won many awards, including several Pushcart Prizes, and the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement from the National Book Critics Circle. She lives and works in San Antonio, Texas.

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One Today

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
January 21, 2013

by  Richard Blanco

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello / shalom,
buon giorno / howdy / namaste / or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together


“One Today: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, January 21, 2013” by Richard Blanco, © 2013 by the University of Pittsburgh Press

Richard Blanco (1968 – ) was born in Madrid, Spain; American poet, public speaker, author, and civil engineer. He is the fifth poet to read at a U.S. presidential inauguration, the poem “One Today” for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. He is the first immigrant, the first Latino, the first openly gay person, and the youngest person to be a U.S. inaugural poet. His books include How to Love a CountryCity of a Hundred Fires; Directions to the Beach of the Dead; and Looking for the Gulf Motel.

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Starfish

by Eleanor Lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,

is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.


“Starfish” from Our Post Soviet History Unfolds, © 2005 by Eleanor Lerman – Sarabande Books

Eleanor Lerman (1952) was born in the Bronx; American poet, novelist and short story writer. When she left home at 18, moving to Greenwich Village, her first job was sweeping up in a harpsichord kit factory. Her first book of poetry, Armed Love, published in 1973, was nominated for a National Book Award. After publishing Come the Sweet by and by in 1975, she took a conventional job, got married, and stopped writing. In 2001, Sarabande Books asked her if she’d like to write poetry again, and commissioned her third book, The Mystery of Meteors. She has since written Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds; The Sensual World Re-Emerges; Strange Life; two short story collections; and three novels.

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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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