“Living Alone” by Elizabeth Burk

is easy, no one
telling you what to do
or when to do it

no one questioning why
you’re eating M&Ms
so early in the morning

or peeling a potato
with your fingernails
instead of a knife

no one watching you forget
to screw the top back
on the coffee maker

or put the glass pot under
the spout, spraying coffee
all over the kitchen

no one asking what’s for dinner
as you walk through the door
no one there

to see that living alone
is as easy
as landing on the moon

every night, looking
to claim your place
on an empty planet

with every tentative
weightless
step you take.

“Living Alone” by Elizabeth Burk, from Rattle #34, Winter 2010,
Tribute to Mental Health Workers.

“Shell” by Adam Zagajewski (and an ocean question for readers)

At night the monks sang softly
and a gusting wind lifted
spruce branches like wings.
I’ve never visited the ancient cities,
I’ve never been to Thebes
or Delphi, and I don’t know
what the oracles once told travellers.
Snow filled the streets and canyons,
and crows in dark robes silently
trailed the fox’s footprints.
I believed in elusive signs,
in shadowed ruins, water snakes,
mountain springs, prophetic birds.
Linden trees bloomed like brides
but their fruit was small and bitter.
Wisdom can’t be found
in music or fine paintings,
in great deeds, courage,
even love,
but only in all these things,
in earth and air, in pain and silence.
A poem may hold the thunder’s echo,
like a shell touched by Orpheus
as he fled. Time takes life away
and gives us memory, gold with flame,
black with embers.

“Shell” by Adam Zagajewski from Mysticism for Beginners: Poems, translated by Clare Cavanagh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).


* I’m adding a quick unrelated footnote as a favor for a dear reader. He is on the lookout for the perfect Mermaid or Ocean poem to go along with a summer gift for his daughters.

Do you have a favorite poem about the ocean (I suggested Faith Shearin’s “Places I Have Heard the Ocean“) or about Mermaids (I was stumped on that one)? Feel free to reply here or to message me via my contact page if easier. Thanks! Christy

“Sweetness” by Stephen Dunn (repost)

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet.

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

“Sweetness” by Stephen Dunn from New and Selected Poems. © Norton, 1994.

*originally shared on December 4, 2015

“Before We Leave” by Stephen Dunn

Just so it’s clear—
no whining on the journey.
If you whine, you’ll get stuck
somewhere with people
like yourself. It’s an unwritten law.
Wear hiking boots. Pack food
and a change of clothes.
We go slowly. Endurance won’t
be enough, though without it
you can’t get to the place
where more of you is asked.
Expect there will be times
when you’ll be afraid.
Hold hands and tremble together
if you must but remember
each of you is alone.

Where are we going?
It’s not an issue of here or there.
And if you ever feel you can’t
take another step imagine
how you might feel to arrive,
if not wiser, a little more aware
how to inhabit the middle ground
between misery and joy.
Trudge on. In the higher regions,
where the footing is unsure,
to trudge is to survive.

Happiness is another journey,
almost over before it starts,
guaranteed to disappoint.
If you’ve come for it, say so,
you’ll get your money back.
I hope you all realize that anytime
is a fine time to laugh. Fake it,
however, and false laughter
will accompany you like a cowbell
for the rest of your days.
You’ll forever lack the seriousness
of a clown. At some point
the rocks will be jagged,
the precipice sheer. That won’t be
the abyss you’ll see looking down.
The abyss, you’ll discover
(if you’ve made it this far),
is usually nearer than that—
at the bottom of something
you’ve yet to resolve,
or posing as your confidante.
Follow me. Don’t follow me. I will
say such things, and mean both.

“Before We Leave” by Stephen Dunn from Lines of Defense: Poems (W. W. Norton & Company).

“Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring” by Wu-Men (repost)

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

“Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring” by Wu-Men, The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry. © Harper Perennial, 1993.

(originally shared 3/16/15)