Silent Poetry

Keep Moving

All week long, I look for . . . 

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And then on Fridays? I report back!

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A while back now, a couple of years ago or so (still deep in the Before Times, for sure), I stumbled onto Maggie Smith's Instagram feed. Every day back then, she was posting a short inspirational "reminder" to herself to . . . keep moving. It turns out she was going through a divorce, and her life was in total upheaval and nothing felt right for her anymore. So she started writing notes to herself each day (she calls them affirmations, encouragements, self-directives, goals) and posting them on social media. The words at the end of each of these notes to herself? Keep Moving.

I looked forward to seeing Maggie's daily posts. Her "notes-to-self" were much more than advice to someone grieving a marriage and trying to figure out how to keep moving through that slog. Her notes were absolutely universal -- encouraging anyone, all of us, to keep moving whenever we are stuck or alone or worn out or going through our own transformations. (And this was back in the Before Times! Remember . . . we used to feel stuck even before the pandemic.) (I forget this sometimes.)

I started taking screen shots of Maggie's Instagram posts to save for myself. I created a little "album" in my phone to store them, so I could dip in and re-read them for a little shot of inspiration whenever I needed one. I shared a lot of them with my daughter, who was working through something at the time. I shared them with friends. And then the pandemic came, and Maggie's notes took on a whole new level of meaning and motivation for me, as I really needed a reminder to . . . keep moving.

I planned to create some sort of journal or "book" for myself full of Maggie's reminders, eventually. But then . . . I didn't have to!

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Because Maggie's daily notes became so universally inspirational (turns out I wasn't the only one screen-shotting them every day), she was ultimately able to collect them up and publish them in a book!

The book - Keep Moving - came out earlier this month, a couple of weeks ago. It's the kind of book that you can sit down and read in one sitting (if you have an hour). It's also the kind of book you can just . . . open up randomly and find a just-right inspiration for that moment (which is how I usually read poetry books, by the way).

Keep Moving . . . is all about hope! There is hope on every single page! Here is what Maggie has to say about hope in one of her opening essays . . . 

"I began writing a goal for myself each day, even when I was struggling and optimism felt less than natural. What kept me going was the idea that hope begets hope, and that practicing hope and courage on a daily basis might help me arrive at that better place. Yes, there is an element of fake it until you make it to being hopeful in a time of crisis. But why not? Perhaps when we try hope on for size, it may not fit at first -- it may hang on us, several sizes too big -- but if we keep wearing it, we will grow into it."
--- Maggie Smith, Keep Moving

Hope begets hope.

Fake it until you make it.

If we keep wearing it, we will grow into it.

Yes. That's it, really, isn't it? Do you want to peek inside with me?

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Here are some concluding words about hope from Maggie in one of her final essays . . . 

"Today I think of myself as a 'recovering pessimist.' I know that optimism is not at odds with wisdom. It's quite the opposite. I think of cynicism as cool but lazy, while hope is desperately uncool -- it has sweaty palms and an earnest smile on its face. What I know to be true is that one hopeful person will accomplish more than a hundred cynics. Why? Because the hopeful person will try."
--- Maggie Smith, Keep Moving

In these disturbing days, let's not give up on hope, my friends.

Let's even be desperately uncool about it.
Faking it until we make it.

Keep moving!

==

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.)

And - hey! You don't think I could leave this post without sharing a Maggie Smith poem, do you???

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FUTURE

What is the future?

Everything that hasn't happened yet, the future
is tomorrow and next year and when you're old
but also in a minute or two, when I'm through
answering. The future is nothing I imagined
as a child: no jet packs, no conveyor-belt sidewalks,
no bell-jarred cities at the bottom of the sea.
The trick of the future is that it's empty,
a cup before you pour the water. The future
is a waiting cup, and for all it knows, you'll fill it
with milk instead. You're thirsty. Every minute
carries you forward, conveys you, into a space
you fill. I mean the future will be full of you.
It's one step beyond the step you're taking now.
What you'll say next until you say it.

Maggie Smith

==

Today's poem was published in Good Bones by Maggie Smith, 2017, Tupelo Press. (It also appears in Keep Moving by Maggie Smith, 2020, Simon & Schuster, Inc. Information about the poet can be found here

 


Trying to Speak

All week long, I look for  . . . 

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and then on Fridays?
I report back!

==

This week I've been thinking a lot about what I mean, exactly, when I say I'm looking for . . . hope.

I know what hope means, the technical definition and all. And I have a sense of what I'm looking for. But it's so hard to articulate. Hope -  as a concept - is hard to pin down. It's not just optimism (too simple) -- it's much more obscure; it's fleeting. It's a deeper . . . something. It's one of those I'll-know-it-when-I-see-it (or feel it) kind of things.

So.
Well.
I didn't come up with a clear and succinct way to explain it. But I do know that I can look to the words of poets to help me express what I mean; to describe hope to me in a way I can feel in my heart; that we can all feel in our souls. Who better than poets . . . to give us the words that lift us up; that speak to the universal importance of hope and resilience?

So I've decided to just stop trying to define or explain it myself . . . and just offer you a poem of hope from another of my favorite poets, Lisel Mueller, instead.

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Hope
Lisel Mueller

It hovers in dark corner
before the lights are turned on, 
   it shakes sleep from its eyes
   and drops from mushroom gills,
      it explodes in the starry heads
      of dandelions turned sages,
         it sticks to the wings of green angels
         that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
   it lives in each earthworm segment
   surviving cruelty,
      it is the motion that runs
      from the eyes to the tail of a dog,
         it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
         of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we can not destroy in ourselves,
the arguement that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

==

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.) 

Don't forget to look for hope.
(It's out there, trying to speak.)

==

Today's poem was published in Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by Lisel Mueller, 1996, Louisiana State University Press.  Information about the poet can be found here

 


Around Here

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. . . on Fridays we . . . 

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This week, I got a new book for my poetry collection -- Together In a Sudden Strangeness: America's Poets Respond to the Pandemic (edited by Alice Quinn and published by Penguin Random House). The editor of the collection, Alice Quinn, reached out to poets across the country to see what they were writing during the days of quarantine, and this collection is the result. The poems, as you might expect, cover the gamut of emotions during those early days when we were all staying home . . . trying to make sense of a pandemic in our midst. Some of the poems are dark, some are melancholy; there's some humor in there, and sadness. 

What strikes me most about these poems, though, is how "far" (I'm not sure that's exactly the word I want to use here, but it will suffice) we've all come in 6 months. Reading these poems -- written, collected, edited, published in a mere 6 months -- was like stepping back in time . . . back to March and April.

Remember that time? Remember how it felt then? We were shocked and anxious and more than a little afraid. We were at home. Inside. Washing our hands and not touching our faces and wiping everything down and hoarding toilet paper and thinking it all might end by . . . summer, surely. We were trying hard to make sense of things back then. To sort out what we could do and not do. Trying not to panic, but kind of panicking.

And the poems in this collection? That's where they are. They come from those early days of the pandemic and the time of staying-at-home.

And reading them now . . . feels kind of dated. 
In a mere 6 months.

And that actually gives me . . . hope. I mean, sure. I'm a lot more jaded about everything now. Worn down and weary and sick of this shit. Like everyone else.

But look how much we've learned.
Look how much we've adapted. 
Look at us.

We're not happy. But we are resilient.
I can see that. I can feel that.
Despite everything . . .  all the crap and all the politics and all the stress and all the just, well, more regular kinds of horrific disasters happening against the backdrop of the pandemic . . . we're still here. Making our way and pulling each other out of the dark spaces and putting the pieces of our lives together as best we can.

That's hope.
In action.

==

And because Friday's are still for poetry, here's one from Together In a Sudden Strangeness for you. Now, this poem apparently went "viral" in those early days, so you may already be familiar with it, but somehow, I missed it completely back then. The first time I read it was this week, in this collection. I only found its history when I Googled the author.

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And the People Stayed Home
Kitty O'Meara

And the people stayed home.

And they listened, and read books, and rested, and exercised, and made art,
and played games, and learned new way of being, and were still.

And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed.

And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, and heartless
ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they
grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and
created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

==

Remember, friends. This story isn't over yet, and we don't know how it ends.
We're in the "messy middle" right now.
Let's keep moving.

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.) 

Don't forget to look for hope.

==

Today's poem was published in Together In a Sudden Strangeness: America's Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn, 2020, Borzoi Books/Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House.  The poem was first published on the author's blog, The Daily Round and in O, The Oprah Magazine. 

 

 

 


Fridays Are For . . .

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Several weeks before everything shut down for the pandemic, I had a little cavity filled at the dentist . . . and there ended up being just a tiny bit of "roughness" that would catch the dental floss every time I flossed my teeth. Not a big deal, certainly. But an annoyance. I made a quick appointment to have it smoothed out at the same time I was due in for my next cleaning at the end of March. Canceled, of course.

So I finally got in to get that little "roughness" smoothed out . . . a couple of weeks ago.

While I was waiting to go in for my appointment, masked-up and alone in my little distanced area of the waiting room, a mother came in with three kids -- all ready for their annual check-ups. There was a big brother, who was probably 8 or so, and a little sister who looked to be about 5, and a baby brother being carried by his mother in a front-pack. (I'm gonna guess he was 12-15 months old; probably walking - but needing to be "contained.") Everyone - except the baby brother - was in a mask, of course. And these kids were beautifully behaved. They sat still and quiet and waited, looking at books they had brought in with them. Nobody fussed or whined.

Except the baby brother.

He was fussing and agitated. He wanted to be in a chair with his big brother and sister. He wanted to be free of the front pack.

(Or so I thought.)

You know what he really wanted?
His face mask!
As soon as his mother put on his tiny, toddler-sized face mask . . . he calmed down. He wanted to be like his siblings, darn it. He wanted his mask on, too.

And then I was called in to get my rough edge smoothed out. But I was comforted by the scene I'd just witnessed.

It gave me hope!

Why? Because to these kids (including the baby brother) wearing masks is . . . just what is happening right now. It's just another of those things we need to do to keep ourselves and each other healthy. An inconvenience, but workable. Even for young children.

The kids are alright.
And that gives me hope.

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And, because it is Friday and Fridays still seem to be for poetry around here, here is a poem for you.

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The Thing Is
Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold your life like a face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you again.

==

This poem reminds me that even when we think we just cannot, we usually find a way to keep going. Dig deep, my friends. Keep looking for hope in the dark spaces.

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.) 

Don't forget to look for hope.

==

Today's poem was published in Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R. Wilson, 2017, Grayson Books.  Information about the poet can be found here

 


Planting Hope

This week has seemed to be a particularly . . . ugly one. Fires and hurricanes and plague. Politicians encouraging the worst in us. I don't need to go on. You all know this. You all feel this. These are wearying days.

So I encourage you to dig deep, my friends. To turn off the news. To put down your phones. To stop scrolling. Go outside and see what's happening there. Renew your soul.

"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter."
            --- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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Last night, as the sun was going down, I went out in my garden with the dogs . . . and I noticed these incredible rays shining through the trees. It made me forget the troubles of the world for a few minutes. It reminded me that there is more happening out there than what we see on our screens; what we hear in the news.

And then I turned around.
And saw this . . . 

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Among the weeds and plants dying back in my late summer garden, there was my little pond frog . . . nestled in the arms of Garden Buddha, basking in the sun's last rays for the day!

Could there be any better reminder . . . that we have a place in the world beyond the despair?

==

And, because it is Friday and Fridays still seem to be for poetry around here, here is a poem from you by another of my favorite poets, David Whyte. 

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The Journey
David Whyte

Above the mountains
   the geese turn into 
      the light again

Painting their
   black silhouettes
      on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
   has to be
      inscribed across 
         the heavens

so you can find
   the one line
      already written
         inside you.

Sometimes it takes
   a great sky
      to find that

first, bright
   and indescribable
      wedge of freedom
         in your own heart.

Sometimes with
   the bones of the black
      sticks left when the fire
         has gone out

someone has written
   something new
      in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
   Even as the light fades quickly now,
      you are arriving.

==

It's especially important for us to remember that . . . we are not leaving right now (even as the light fades quickly); we are arriving. Dig deep, my friends. Keep looking for hope in the dark spaces.

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.) 

Don't forget to look for hope.

==

Today's poem was published in David Whyte: Essentials, edited by Gayle Karen Young Whyte, Many Rivers Press, 2020.  Information about the poet can be found here

 


Fridays Are For Hope

You know how when you start thinking about something -- a specific brand of car when you're interested in a new car, for example -- you start seeing it everywhere?

Well. I'm thinking that might be the case for hope, too. Because now that I'm looking for it, I'm finding it (in little pieces, at least) more often.

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Just little bits of it. 
Here and there.

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I've been playing around with the word "hope" this week. The definition. The way we use it in everyday speech. That kind of thing.

Turns out, hope . . . is a Really Useful Word! Noun, verb, proper noun, adjective, adverb.  It shows up everywhere, all the time. A word with many uses.

I think, in my case - right now, I'm looking for a . . . thing.

Hope.
As a noun.
"A desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment."
(Yep. That's it.)

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I've also been thinking about all the ways we talk about hope . . . without actually using the word hope.

Things are looking up . . . 
The light at the end of the tunnel . . . 
Seeing through rose-colored lenses . . . 
Keeping the faith . . . 
The cup is half-full . . . 
She's a real Pollyanna . . . 
Look on the bright side . . . 

It's everywhere in our language!

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It's an interesting word, that's for sure. Fun to play around with. Poets, of course, have a field day with hope. I've got a poem for you today that I'm sure you already know. But, when you're thinking about what hope IS . . . you need this poem in your toolbox.

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"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.

    --- Emily Dickinson

==

Right now, hope feels elusive -- that "thing with feathers that perches in the soul."

But.

I felt some glimmers of hope now and again this week.
Did you?
Did you find any hope in the dark spaces this week?

==

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.) 

Don't forget to look for hope. (And let me know if you find some.)

==

Today's poem was published in The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R.W. Franklin, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999.  Information about the poet can be found here

 

 


Planting Some Hope

For many months now, Fridays have been for poetry. But I'm feeling the itch to switch things up a bit.

So, starting today . . . Fridays are for hope.
(Which will still likely include poetry sometimes. It's just, well, I'm more than a bit desperate for some hope these days.)

I've decided to go looking for it.
(Hope, that is.)

And when I find it, I'm going to plant it right here.
(On Fridays.)

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Let's start with a little story of hope.

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On Turning Things Around

In the days before the pandemic, I used to go on regular bike trail rides with a small group of friends. We had all met at the gym, and we didn't know each other well - but we all liked being active, and we had bikes, and our schedules lined up. (That's about it for simularities, though. Let's just say . . . we cover the spectrum when it comes to politics and religious beliefs and feelings about climate change.) Anyway. There were 4 of us, and on the trails we would often "pair up" and ride and chat . . . switching the "pairs" now and again. Eventually, we had one-on-one chats with everyone on a ride. And, because we generally liked riding together, we just silently agreed not to discuss certain things. Or we sidestepped entire topics.  Our chats were pretty superficial; day-to-day stuff. It worked.

Anyway . . . once, I was riding along with the most quiet and thoughtful woman in our group. She never said much about herself, and she tended to play things pretty close to the vest. Mostly she just chatted about her daughters and their families and "gym stuff." I knew she had some health issues, but I didn't have any idea what they were.

As we rode that day, she told me she'd been diagnosed with MS many years ago, and she explained how it had changed her life. It had meant ending her career, a slowing down, a turning inward. The diagnosis turned her into what she calls a "thoughtful planner." She's always thinking ahead now -- coming up with options for how she'll live each day (depending on how she's feeling), what she'll do to maintain her ability to move and stay active, how she wants the rest of her life to look.

Her outlook is so positive, so focused on movement, so . . . forward thinking.

I asked her . . . Were you always so accepting and gracious and wise about your diagnosis?

Oh, no! She told me. At first, she was in despair. She asked her husband . . . 
What will become of us?

And he told her to turn that statement around . . . 
What will we become?

I almost fell off my bike right then. Because YES. That's it.
Hope.
In the face of a dark and uncertain future.

The message in my story today? 
Sometimes when things look particularly bleak, we need to remember to . . .  turn it around.

What will become of us?  ==>  What will we become?

==

And . . . because maybe you showed up here today for some poetry . . . here's a poem for you, too.

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Small Kindnesses
Danusha Laméris

I've been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say "bless you"
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. "Don't die," we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons 
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don't want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress 
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, "Here,
have my seat," "Go ahead - you first," "I like your hat."

==

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.) 

Don't forget to look for hope. (Maybe it's planted right there in your garden!)

==

Today's poem was published in Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindess & Connection, edited by James Crews, Green Writers Press, 2019.  Information about the poet can be found here

 

 


Fridays Are For Poetry

Today, I bring you a poem from another of my favorite poets, W.S. Merwin.

There are so many (many, MANY) fabulous Merwin poems. (If you haven't check out his work . . .oh, do!) The one I chose for today is from his last published book, Garden Time. It's a bit melancholy and thoughtful, and - for me - perfect for These Days. I've always loved Merwin's spare style, his crashing words, the fact that there is no punctuation. His poems are always a ride!

Enjoy.

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Living With the News
W.S. Merwin

Can I get used to it day after day
a little at a time while the tide keeps
coming in faster the waves get bigger
building on each other breaking records
this is not the world that I remember
then comes the day when I open the box
that I remember packing with such care
and there is the face that I had known well
in little pieces staring up at me
it is not mentioned on the front pages
but somewhere back near the real estate
among the things that happen every day
to someone who now happens to be me
and what can I do and who can tell me
then there is what the doctor comes to say
endless patience will never be enough
our only hope is to be the daylight

=

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.) 

==

Today's poem was published in Garden Time, W.S. Merwin, Copper Canyon Press, 2016.  Information about the poet can be found here

 


Pausing for Some Poetry

We're getting packed up this morning, ready to head back home after the better parts of a couple of weeks up north. It's hectic: laundry, packing, clean-up. Y'know. 

But there's still some time for poetry!

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(My view across the road . . . as the sun was going down last night.)

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The Human Heart
Campbell McGrath

We construct it from tin and ambergris and clay,
   ochre, graph paper, a funnel
   of ghosts, whirlpool
in a downspout full of midsummer rain.

It is, for all its freedom and obstinance,
   an artifact of human agency
   in its maverick intricacy,
its chaos reflected in earthly circumstance,

its appetites mirrored by a hungry world
   like the lights of the casino
   in the coyote's eye. Old
as the odor of almonds in the hills around Solano,

filigreed and chancelled with flavor of blood oranges,
   fashioned from moonlight,
   yarn, nacre, cordite,
shaped and assembled valve by valve, flange by flange,

and finished with the carnal fire of interstellar dust.
   We build the human heart
   and lock it in its chest
and hope that what we have made can save us.

==

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.) 

==

Today's poem was published in Nouns & Verbs: New and Selected Poems, Campbell McGrath, Ecco, 2019.  Information about the poet can be found here


Friday is for Poetry, Of Course

It's raining this morning. We haven't had rain in a very long time, and it's been So Dang Hot for So Dang Long that everything is parched and dry and desperate for water. Earlier this summer, it rained so much that I had mushrooms everywhere. Now? Let's just say . . . my garden is sighing in relief this morning!

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It's Friday, and I need to get on to the poetry part of things. This week, I've been devouring a book of poetry that I recently added to my personal poetry library/collection. The poet is Campbell McGrath, another one of my favorites. A lot of McGrath's poems are long. Prose poems. Long lyric poems. Incredible to read, but too long for a blog post, y'know? (If you've always balked at reading prose poems, Campbell McGrath might change your mind. He is the King of the epic prose poem.)

Luckily, he writes shorter poems, too. Here you go!

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Saying No
Campbell McGrath

No sir, absolutely not, sorry, but no,
Not sorry, actually -- just no.
Keep it simple, plain vanilla: nope,
Not happening. Big en, big oh.

No way, no how.
Negative, nuh-uh, ixnay, nyet.
No no, no no.
No-no-no-no-no-no-no.

Not likely, not likely. Maybe,
but I doubt it.
Possibly, conceivably, in theory.
Un-huh, mm-hmmm . . . .

Well yeah, sure, okay, why not,
oh definitely, yes,
wow, I mean anything,
anything at all, when can we begin?

=

My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and things that bring you joy. (And maybe some poetry, too.) (And rain if you need it.)

==

Today's poem was published in Nouns & Verbs: New and Selected Poems, Campbell McGrath, Ecco, 2019.  Information about the poet can be found here