“Lead” by Mary Oliver

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing.,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.


Mary Oliver, (New and Selected Poems Volume Two), Beacon Press.


“Proverbs and Songs” by Antonio Machado

Dedicated to Jose Ortega y Gasset

The eye you see is not
an eye because you see it;
it is an eye because it sees you.

To talk with someone,
ask a question first,
then — listen.

is an ugly fault,
and now it’s a boring fault too.

But look in your mirror for the other one,
the other one who walks by your side.

Between living and dreaming
there is a third thing.
Guess it.

This Narcissus of ours
can’t see his face in the mirror
because he has become the mirror.

New century? Still
firing up the same forge?
Is the water still going along in its bed?

Every instant is Still.

The sun in Aries. My window
is open to the cool air.
Oh the sound of the water far off!
The evening awakens the river.

In the old farmhouse
— a high tower with storks! —
the gregarious sound falls silent,
and in the field where no on is,
water makes a sound among the rocks.

Just as before, I’m interested
in water held in;
but now water in living
rock of my chest.

When you hear water, does its sound tell you
if it’s from a mountain or farm,
city street, formal garden, or orchard?

What I find surprises me:
leaves of the garden balm
smell of lemonwood.

Don’t trace out your profile,
forget your side view —
all that is outer stuff.

Look for your other half
who walks always next to you
and tends to be what you aren’t.

When spring comes,
go to the flowers —
why keep on sucking wax?

In my solitude
I have seen things very clearly
that were not true.

Water is good, so is thirst;
shadow is good, so is sun;
the honey from the rosemarys
and the honey of the bare fields.

Only one creed stands:
quod elixum est ne asato.
Don’t roast what’s already boiled.

Sing on, sing on, sing on,
the cricket in his cage
near his darling tomato.

Form your letters slowly and well:
making things well
is more important than making them.

All the same…
Ah yes! All the same,
moving the legs fast is important,
as the snail said to the greyhound.

There are really men of action now!
The marsh was dreaming
of its mosquitoes.

Wake up, you poets:
let echoes end,
and voices begin.

But don’t hunt for dissonance;
because, in the end, there is no dissonance.
When the sound is heard people dance.

What the poet is searching for
is not the fundamental I
but the deep you.

The eyes you’re longing for —
listen now —
the eyes you see yourself in
are eyes because they see you.

Beyond living and dreaming
there is something more important:
waking up.

Now someone has come up with this!
Cogito ergo non sum.
What an exaggeration!

I thought my fire was out,
and stirred the ashes…
I burnt my fingers.

Pay attention now:
a heart that’s all by itself
is not a heart.

I’ve caught a glimpse of him in dreams:
expert hunter of himself,
every minute in ambush.

He caught his bad man:
the one who on sunny days
walks with head down.

If a poem becomes common,
passed around, hand to hand, it’s OK:
gold is chosen for coins.

If it’s good to live,
then it’s better to be asleep dreaming,
and best of all,
mother, is to awake.

Sunlight is good for waking,
but I prefer bells —
the best thing about morning.

Among the figs I am soft.
Among the rocks I am hard.
That’s bad!

When I am alone
how close my friends are;
when I am with them
how distant they are!

Now, poet, your prophecy?
“Tomorrow what is dumb will speak,
the human heart and the stone.”

But art?
It is pure and intense play,
so it is like pure and intense life,
so it is like pure and intense fire.
You’ll see the coal burning.

“Proverbs and Songs” by Antonio Machado, from Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly



*thanks to Ivan at Poetry Chaikhana


“Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard” by Kay Ryan

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small —
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.

“Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard” by Kay Ryan, from The Niagara River, (Grove/Atlantic, Inc. 2005)

“Ordinary Days” by Stephen Dunn

The storm is over; too bad, I say.
At least storms are clear
about their dangerous intent.

Ordinary days are what I fear,
the sneaky speed
with which noon arrives, the sun

shining while a government darkens
a decade, or a man
falls out of love. I fear the solace

of repetition, a withheld slap in the face.
Someone is singing
in Portugal. Here the mockingbird

is a crow and a grackle, then a cat.
So many things
happening at once. If I decide

to turn over my desk, go privately wild,
trash the house,
no one across town will know.

I must insist how disturbing this is–
the necessity
of going public, of being a fool.

“Ordinary Days” by Stephen Dunn, from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994, (W.W. Norton and Company, 1995)

“At Seventy-Five: Re-Reading An Old Book” by Hayden Carruth

My prayers have been answered, if they were prayers. I live.
I’m alive, and even in rather good health, I believe.
If I’d quit smoking I might live to be a hundred.
Truly this is astonishing, after the poverty and pain,
The suffering. Who would have thought that petty
Endurance could achieve so much?
And prayers –
Were they prayers? Always I was adamant
In my irreligion, and had good reason to be.
Yet prayer is not, I see in old age now,
A matter of doctrine or discipline, but rather
A movement of the natural human mind
Bereft of its place among the animals, the other
Animals. I prayed. Then on paper I wrote
Some of the words I said, which are these poems.

“At Seventy-Five: Re-Reading An Old Book” by Hayden Carruth, from Doctor Jazz, Copper Canyon Press.