Whether it’s a turtle who drags herself
Slowly to the sandlot, where she digs
The sandy nest she was born to dig
And lay leathery eggs in, or whether it’s salmon
Toward pools that call, Bring your eggs here
And nowhere else in the world, whether it is turtle-green
Ugliness and awkwardness, or the seething
Grace and gild of silky salmon, we
Are envious, our wishes speak out right here,
Thirsty for a destiny like theirs,
An absolute right choice
To end all choices. Is it memory,
We ask, is it a smell
Or just what is it—some kind of blueprint
That makes them move, hot grain by grain,
Cold cascade above icy cascade,
A hundred miles
Inland from the easy, shiny sea?
And we also—in the company
Of our tribe
Or perhaps alone, like the turtle
On her wrinkled feet with the tapping nails—
We also are going to travel, we say let’s be
Oblivious to all, save
That we travel, and we say
When we reach the place we’ll know
We are in the right spot, somehow, like a breath
Entering a singer’s chest, that shapes itself
For the song that is to follow.
Copyright © 1987 by Alicia Ostriker. Used with the permission of the author.
This morning I looked at the map of the day
And said to myself, “This is the way! This is the way I will go;
Thus shall I range on the roads of achievement,
The way is so clear—it shall all be a joy on the lines marked out.”
And then as I went came a place that was strange,—
’Twas a place not down on the map!
And I stumbled and fell and lay in the weeds,
And looked on the day with rue.
I am learning a little—never to be sure—
To be positive only with what is past,
And to peer sometimes at the things to come
As a wanderer treading the night
When the mazy stars neither point nor beckon,
And of all the roads, no road is sure.
I see those men with maps and talk
Who tell how to go and where and why;
I hear with my ears the words of their mouths,
As they finger with ease the marks on the maps;
And only as one looks robust, lonely, and querulous,
As if he had gone to a country far
And made for himself a map,
Do I cry to him, “I would see your map!
I would heed that map you have!”
This poem is in the public domain.
for Kait Rhoads
Gather up whatever is
glittering in the gutter,
whatever has tumbled
in the waves or fallen
in flames out of the sky,
for it’s not only our
hearts that are broken,
but the heart
of the world as well.
Stitch it back together.
Make a place where
the day speaks to the night
and the earth speaks to the sky.
Whether we created God
or God created us
it all comes down to this:
In our imperfect world
we are meant to repair
and stitch together
what beauty there is, stitch it
with compassion and wire.
See how everything
we have made gathers
the light inside itself
and overflows? A blessing.
From Only Now (Deerbrook Editions, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Stuart Kestenbaum. Used with permission of the author.
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
“Scaffolding” from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966–1996 by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1998 by Seamus Heaney.
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
"So Much Happiness" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books.
The world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t mind happiness not always being so very much fun if you don’t mind a touch of hell now and then just when everything is fine because even in heaven they don’t sing all the time The world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t mind some people dying all the time or maybe only starving some of the time which isn’t half so bad if it isn’t you Oh the world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t much mind a few dead minds in the higher places or a bomb or two now and then in your upturned faces or such other improprieties as our Name Brand society is prey to with its men of distinction and its men of extinction and its priests and other patrolmen and its various segregations and congressional investigations and other constipations that our fool flesh is heir to Yes the world is the best place of all for a lot of such things as making the fun scene and making the love scene and making the sad scene and singing low songs of having inspirations and walking around looking at everything and smelling flowers and goosing statues and even thinking and kissing people and making babies and wearing pants and waving hats and dancing and going swimming in rivers on picnics in the middle of the summer and just generally ‘living it up’ Yes but then right in the middle of it comes the smiling mortician
From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
I must be far from men and women
To love their ways.
I must be on a mountain
Breathing greatly like a tree
If my heart would yearn a little
For the peopled, placid valley.
I must be in a bare place
And lonely as a moon
To find the graceless ways of people
Worthful as a flower’s ways,
A flower that lives for loneliness
And dies when beauty dies.
I cannot find music
On the tongues of men and women
Unless I hear their voices
Like echoes, silence-softened.
Their many words mean little.
Their mouths are blatant sparrows.
I must be far from men and women,
As God is far away,
To keep my faith with Beauty,
My heart sweet towards them,
And love them with a god’s tranquility.
From On a Grey Thread (Will Ransom, 1923) by Elsa Gidlow. This poem is in the public domain.