When I am asked
how I began writing poems,
I talk about the indifference of nature.
It was soon after my mother died,
a brilliant June day,
I sat on a gray stone bench
in a lovingly planted garden,
but the day lilies were as deaf
as the ears of drunken sleepers
and the roses curved inward.
Nothing was black or broken
and not a leaf fell
and the sun blared endless commercials
for summer holidays.
I sat on a gray stone bench
ringed with the ingenue faces
of pink and white impatiens
and placed my grief
in the mouth of language,
the only thing that would grieve with me.
“You have to inhabit poetry
if you want to make it.”
And what’s “to inhabit?”
To be in the habit of, to wear
words, sitting in the plainest light,
in the silk of morning, in the shoe of night;
a feeling bare and frondish in surprising air;
And what’s “to make?”
To be and to become words’ passing
weather; to serve a girl on terrible terms,
embark on voyages over voices,
evade the ego-hill, the misery-well,
the siren hiss of publish, success, publish, success, success, success.
And why inhabit, make, inherit poetry?
Oh, it’s the shared comedy of the worst
blessed; the sound leading the hand;
a wordlife running from mind to mind
through the washed rooms of the simple senses;
one of those haunted, undefendable, unpoetic
crosses we have to find.
A little something different for you today, friends. Usually I share one selection with you per posting, maybe one pairing if I’m feeling industrious, but today I offer you a collection of quotes and poems.
Some of you may remember that before Words for the Year, my friend Jennie and I hosted Words for the Weekend. Instead of single selections, we posted Volumes of curated material each weekend. We’ve since retired that site, but I keep it open out of love and nostalgia; it was my original “baby,” and I still return to it from time to time to read or to cull material for this site.
One of our first volumes was dedicated to gratitude and giving thanks, and we published it around this time of year in 2013. It is that volume I offer you today, and with it, my own thanks and gratitude. You may visit the original volume over at Words for the Weekend, Volume 7: We Are Saying Thank You. And feel free to browse around while you’re there or to bookmark it for later reading; I think you’ll really like it.
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart
In this time of thanks and gratitude, Jennie and I wish you and your loved ones peace, love and an endless supply of chocolate. May you carry your gratitude not just today, but every day. And on the days you forget to carry it, may it ride ever so lightly on your shoulder–a golden butterfly resting her wings–causing everyone around you to marvel and smile in your presence.
Happy holidays, with gratitude. Thank you for being a friend, Christy and Jennie
“Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
your heart is true you’re a pal and a confidant
I’m not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won’t you stand up and take a bow
And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
You would see, the biggest gift would be from me
and the card attached would say,
Thank you for being a friend”
“Flamin’ eyes of people fear
Burnin’ into you
Many men are missin’ much
Hatin’ what they do
Youth and truth are makin’ love
Dig it for a starter, now
Dyin’ young is hard to take
Sellin’ out is harder
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin”
~ “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (video) covered by Dave Matthews Band; originally performed by Sly and the Family Stone, on Greatest Hits
(If you want an instant mood booster, watch this. Dave dancing around the stage = Pure joy, especially at 6:01.)
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” ~ Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” ~ e e cummings
Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.
I join my hands in thanks for the many wonders of life;
For having twenty-four brand new hours before me.
The sun is rising.
The forest becomes my awareness bathed in sunshine.
“The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live. He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
“I made cranberry sauce, and when it was done put it into a dark blue bowl for the beautiful contrast. I was thinking, doing this, about the old ways of gratitude: Indians thanking the deer they’d slain, grace before supper, kneeling before bed. I was thinking that gratitude is too much absent in our lives now, and we need it back, even if it only takes the form of acknowledging the blue of a bowl against the red of cranberries.” ~ Elizabeth Berg, Open House
“Day and night gifts keep pelting down on us. If we were aware of this, gratefulness would overwhelm us. But we go through life in a daze. A power failure makes us aware of what a gift electricity is; a sprained ankle lets us appreciate walking as a gift, a sleepless night, sleep. How much we are missing in life by noticing gifts only when we are suddenly deprived of them.” ~ David Steindl-Rast
“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” ~ Gautama Buddha
“I give thanks on this day and every day for the ability you gave me to gather the beauty of the land as if it were water that one takes with the lips, and also for the wealth of pain that I can carry in the depths of my soul without dying.” ~ Gabriela Mistral
What it is
I know not,
But with gratitude
My tears fall.
~ Saigyō Hōshi
“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” ~ Thornton Wilder
“If we were always conscious of the fact that people precious to us are frighteningly mortal, hanging not even by a thread, but by a wisp of gossamer, perhaps we would be kinder to them and more grateful for the love and friendship they give to us.” ~ Dean Koontz, Seize the Night
by Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now. And the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well. . . .
Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet and there is warm water and cold water. And drinkable water! It’s a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience.
So these are just a few of an enormous number of gifts to which we can open your heart. So I wish you that you would open your heart to all these blessings and let them flow through you, that everyone whom you will meet on this day will be blessed by you, just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch. Just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you. Then it will really be a good day.
“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me
but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.
Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much,
my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…
and then I remember to relax,
and stop trying to hold on to it,
and then it flows through me like rain
and I can’t feel anything but gratitude
for every single moment
of my stupid little life…
You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure.
But don’t worry.
I said to Poetry: “I’m finished
Having to almost die
before some weird light
comes creeping through
is no fun.
“No thank you, Creation,
no muse need apply.
I’m out for good times –
at the very least,
some painless convention.”
Poetry laid back
and played dead
until this morning.
I wasn’t sad or anything,
Poetry said: “You remember
the desert, and how glad you were
that you have an eye
to see it with?* You remember
that, if ever so slightly?”
I said: “I didn’t hear that.
Besides, it’s five o’clock in the a.m.
I’m not getting up
in the dark
to talk to you.”
Poetry said: “But think about the time
you saw the moon
over that small canyon
that you liked so much better
than the grand one – and how suprised you were
that the moonlight was green
and you still had
one good eye
to see it with
Think of that!”
“I’ll join the church!” I said,
huffily, turning my face to the wall.
“I’ll learn how to pray again!”
“Let me ask you,” said Poetry.
“When you pray, what do you think
Poetry had me.
“There’s no paper
in this room,” I said.
“And that new pen I bought
makes a funny noise.”