Here’s a poem I just like. To me it says, like Iris Dement, “Let the mystery be.” Poetry is the closest thing in words to a language my body understands. Experience it, intervene in it, but don’t look to it for all the answers… it’s just a poem, after all.
If we’re talking favorite poems, I have to include this one. I first became aware of Maya Angelou and Alice Walker when they were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, back when she still had two names. I think it was 1987 or 1988. I was in college. Seeing and hearing these women changed me, changed my life. I became — GASP! — a feminist! Or, actually, realized I already was one and embraced it. (Later I would drop the noun and now mainly use the term as an adjective… less limited by people’s ideas of what a “feminist” is.)
I read everything they had written up to that point, including a lot of poetry. There’s not a single book by either of them that I don’t recommend.
Audre Lorde keeps it real
Here are two hard poems by Audre Lorde. I love the way poetry uses the power of language to effect visceral emotion and give sharp focus to the human impact of systemic injustice … I was going to say, atrocity. You decide. Strip away comfortable illusion, and as my teacher says, DENY NOTHING.
Sisters in Arms
A couple of years ago, I challenged myself to write 10 haikus a day for 100 days. With a few exceptions (some days I couldn’t quite get to 10!), I completed the 100 days and ended up with almost 1000 haikus. A few of them were even ok!
In the process, I read a lot of haikus. I learned that the best haiku speak to the heart. I wrote a poem about it:
Richard Wright wrote haiku. I’m reading it.
Mostly I just read along: ok, ok, ok
a little gasp
he gets something exactly right.
your KNOW that place
recognition. it strikes softly in the body. But it does strike.
you FEEL it.
head head head — heart. yes. that’s it.
Here’s one of Wright’s haikus:
And though level full
The petal holds its dew
And without trembling
Sometimes we need poetry to help us feel the pain of the injustice all around us. Fifty years ago today, violence abruptly ended the life of one of this nation’s most impactful proponents of civil rights, and social and economic justice. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy lives in our continued attempts at nonviolent protest and direct action against the injustices of our day. And, we are still met, far too often, with violence.
Today, a poem from the #BlackLivesMatter movement. You can read more here.
AFTER THE VIGIL FOR THE CHARLESTON CHURCH MASSACRE
Ithaca, NY – June 24, 2015
A poem for learning nonattachment from a cat
I love the Beats. A couple of years ago my partner brought me this book as a present from City Lights when he was in San Francisco. Bukowski clearly has an admiration for cats, but he doesn’t see them as sweet, cuddly little love bugs. He sees them as sometimes grouchy, mischievous, interloping, existential thinkers and great hunters of the wild, which they also are. Bukowski’s cat don’t give a F(*&! what you think of them!
This poem illustrates well the cat’s nonchalance in contrast to the poet’s attachment.
the devious good of rescuing the suffering
once very thin and nervous
like a starving musician
I fed him well
and he has gotten fat
like a Texas oilman and not so
asleep in bed I will awaken
and his nose will be touching my
nose and those
yellow great eyes
P O U R I N G
down into what’s left of my soul
and then I will say —
get your nose away from my
purring like a spider full of
flies he will walk off a
I was in the bathtub yesterday
and he came walking in
high on his feet
and I am in there
smoking a cigar and reading the
and he leaped up on the edge of the
balancing on the slippery ivory
and I told him
sir, you are a cat and cats
don’t like water.
but he went around to the faucets
and he hung there with his black feet
and the other part of him was
sniffing at the water and the water was
HOT and he started drinking it
the thin red tongue
bashful and miraculous
dipping into the hot water
and he kept
wondering what I was doing in there
what I found so good about it
and then that fat white fool
fell in! —
we all came out of there
wet and fast;
cat, me, cigar and NEW YORKER
spitting, screaming, sputtering, soaked
and my wife ran in
MY GOD! WHAT HAPPENED?WHAT HAPPENED?
I spoke through my unraveling cigar:
a man can’t even have a little privacy
in his own bathtub, that’s what!
she only laughed at us
and the cat was not even angry
he was still wet and fat
except for his tail and very sad and
he began licking
I used a towel,
then I walking into the bedroom
got into bed
and tried to find my place in the
but the good mood was broken
I put the publication down
and stared up at the ceiling
up into space where God was supposed to be
then I hear it:
the next stray cat who comes to my door will
Nonattachment is one of the central teachings of yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali begins:
1.1 Now the teachings of yoga.
1.2 Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.
1.3 Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.
1.4 Otherwise awareness takes itself to be the patterns of consciousness.
In other words, we can begin to identify with the things we think. The things we think can come to define us. Similarly, the Bhagavad Gita teaches that we can come to identify with the things we do. This kind of attachment is a source of our suffering, blinding us to the fuller truth of reality. The Sutras teach that effortful practice (abhyasa) along with detachment (vairagya) are the keys to clarity. Work hard at what you do for the sake of the work itself; don’t be attached to the outcomes or what you think the outcomes should be. This lesson is the heart of karma yoga, the yoga of action.