Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms,
nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor in kirtans, not in legs winding around your
own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly—
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.
Christmas is a place, like Jackson Hole, where we all
To meet once a year. It has water, and grass for
All the fur traders can come in. We visited the place
As children, but we never heard the good stories.
Those stories only get told in the big tents, late
At night, when a trapper who has been caught
In his own trap, held down in icy water, talks; and a
With a ponytail and a limp comes in from the edge of
As children, we knew there was more to it—
Why some men got drunk on Christmas Eve
Wasn’t explained, nor why we were so often
Near tears nor why the stars came down so close,
Why so much was lost. Those men and women
Who had died in wars started by others,
Did they come that night? Is that why the Christmas
Trembled just before we opened the presents?
There was something about angels. Angels we
Have heard on high Sweetly singing o’er
The plain. The angels were certain. But we could not
Be certain whether our family was worthy tonight.
We should ask God
To help us toward manners. Inner gifts
Do not find their way
To creatures without just respect.
If a man or woman flails about, he not only
Smashes his house,
He burns the whole world down.
Your depression is connected to your insolence
And your refusal to praise. If a man or woman is
On the path, and refuses to praise — that man or woman
Steals from others every day — in fact is a shoplifter!
The sun became full of light when it got hold of itself.
Angels began shining when they achieved discipline.
The sun goes out whenever the cloud of not-praising comes near.
The moment that foolish angel felt insolent, he heard the door close.
* Many thanks to Ellen H. who recommended this poem for us. She and I both agreed that this piece is so appropriate for our times. “We need a little more civility in our national discourse,” Ellen said. Amen to that, Ellen, amen to that. Thank you again for sharing, Christy
* A correction: Thanks to to kind reader Rebecca S. who alerted me that this piece was in fact a Rumi poem that Robert Bly translated (along with a selection of poems by other poets as well) in the above credited book. I’ve changed the title and credits to reflect this correction. Thanks for the catch, Rebecca!
Robert Bly reads selected poems by William Stafford shortly after his passing, discussing in personal terms exactly what made him a legend, culminating in a powerful poem written to his late friend. Recorded at the 1993 Minnesota Men’s Conference.