Saturday, January 31, 2015

妈妈 (Child)


A poem, 'simultaneously unbearable and exquisite,'
in Chinese with English translation by Alex Tang,
a Toronto-based earthquake engineer.


快 (Hurry up)
抓紧妈妈的手 (Tightly hold your Mom’s hand)
去天堂的路 (The road to heaven)
太黑了 (is too dark)
妈妈怕你 (Mom is afraid that)
碰了头 (you hit your head)
快 (Hurry up)
抓紧妈妈的手 (Tightly hold your Mom’s hand)
让妈妈陪你走 (Let Mom keep you company)

妈妈 (Child)
怕 (I am afraid)
天堂的路 (The road to heaven)
太黑 (is too dark)
我看不见你的手 (I cannot see your hand)
自从 (since)
倒塌的墙 (the wall collapsed)
把阳光夺走 (it took the sun light away)
我再也看不见 (I cannot see )
你柔情的眸 (your lovely eyes again)

孩子 (Mom)
你走吧 (You can go)
前面的路 (the road in front of you)
再也没有忧愁 (has no sorrow any more)
没有读不完的课本 (there are no books that you cannot finish reading)
和爸爸的拳头 (and your father’s fist)
你要记住 (you have to remember)
我和爸爸的摸样 (my face and your father’s face)
来生还要一起走 (let’s finish walking this road together in our next life)

妈妈 (Child)
别担忧 (do not worry)
天堂的路有些挤 (the road to heaven is a bit crowded)
有很多同学朋友 (I have a lot classmates and friends)
我们说 (we all say)
不哭 (don’t cry)
哪一个人的妈妈都是我们的妈妈 (anyone’s Mom is our Mom)
哪一个孩子都是妈妈的孩子 (any child is Mom’s child)
没有我的日子 (the days without me)
你把爱给活的孩子吧 (give your love to the children alive)

妈妈 (Mom)
你别哭 (don’t cry)
泪光照亮不了 (tears cannot light up the road)
我们的路 (our road)
让我们自己 (let us)
慢慢的走 (walk slowly)

妈妈 (Child)
我会记住你和爸爸的模样 (I will remember your face and father’s face)
记住我们的约定 (remember our appointment)
来生一起走 (of walking together in our next life)

via Andrew C. Revkin,
the NY Times Earth Blog
May 22, 2008

Friday, January 30, 2015



 All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the orchard,
 Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing the soil.
 Rain blackened the horizon, but cold winds kept it over the Pacific,
 And the sky above us stayed the dull gray
 Of an old year coming to an end.

 In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first son's birth-
 An olive or a fig tree-a sign that the earth has one more life to bear.
 I would have done the same, proudly laying new stock into my father's
 A green sapling rising among the twisted apple boughs,
 A promise of new fruit in other autumns.

 But today we kneel in the cold planting you, our native giant,
 Defying the practical custom of our fathers,
 Wrapping in your roots a lock of hair, a piece of an infant's birth cord,
 All that remains above earth of a first-born son,
 A few stray atoms brought back to the elements.

 We will give you what we can-our labor and our soil,
 Water drawn from the earth when the skies fail,
 Nights scented with the ocean fog, days softened by the circuit of bees.
 We plant you in the corner of the grove, bathed in western light,
 A slender shoot against the sunset.

 And when our family is no more, all of his unborn brothers dead,
 Every niece and nephew scattered, the house torn down,
 His mother's beauty ashes in the air,
 I want you to stand among strangers, all young and ephemeral to you,
 Silently keeping the secret of your birth.

–Dana Gioia 


Thursday, January 29, 2015

we are that


No permanence is ours, we are a wave that flows to fit whatever form it finds.

–Hermann Hesse

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

make a beginning

... stop imagining that you were born, have parents, are a body, will die and so on.

Just try, make a beginning – it is not as hard as you think.

–Nisargadatta Maharaj


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

we are occasional like that


We are not one with this world. We are not
the complexity our body is, nor the summer air
idling in the big maple without purpose.
We are a shape the wind makes in these leaves
as it passes through. We are not the wood
any more than the fire, but the heat which is a marriage
between the two. We are certainly not the lake
nor the fish in it, but the something that is
pleased by them. We are the stillness when
a mighty Mediterranean noon subtracts even the voices of
insects by the broken farmhouse. We are evident
when the orchestra plays, and yet are not part
of the strings or brass. Like the song that exists
only in the singing, and is not the singer.
God does not live among the church bells
but is briefly resident there. We are occasional
like that. A lifetime of easy happiness mixed
with pain and loss, trying always to name and hold
on to the enterprise under way in our chest.
Reality is not what we marry as a feeling. It is what
walks up the dirt path, through the excessive heat
and giant sky, the sea stretching away.
He continues past the nunnery to the old villa
where he will sit on the terrace with her, their sides
touching. In the quiet that is the music of that place,
which is the difference between silence and windlessness.

–Jack Gilbert
Music Is in the Piano Only When It Is Played


Monday, January 26, 2015

the lazy son


A man on his deathbed left instructions
for dividing up his goods among his three sons.
He had devoted his entire spirit to those sons.
They stood like cypress trees around him,
quiet and strong.
He told the town judge,
"Whichever of my sons is laziest,
give him all the inheritance."

Then he died, and the judge turned to the three,
"Each of you must give some account of your laziness,
so I can understand just how you are lazy."

Mystics are experts in laziness. They rely on it,
because they continually see God working all around them.
The harvest keeps coming in, yet they
never even did the plowing!

"Come on. Say something about the ways you are lazy."

Every spoken word is a covering for the inner self.
A little curtain-flick no wider than a slice
of roast meat can reveal hundreds of exploding suns.
Even if what is being said is trivial and wrong,
the listener hears the source. One breeze comes
from across a garden. Another from across the ash-heap.
Think how different the voices of the fox
and the lion, and what they tell you!

Hearing someone is lifting the lid off the cooking pot.
You learn what's for supper. Though some people
can know just by the smell, a sweet stew
from a sour soup cooked with vinegar.

A man taps a clay pot before he buys it
to know by the sound if it has a crack.

The eldest of the three brothers told the judge.
"I can know a man by his voice,
and if he won't speak,
I wait three days, and then I know him intuitively."

The second brother, "I know him when he speaks,
and if he won't talk, I strike up a conversation."

"But what if he knows that trick?" asked the judge.

Which reminds me of the mother who tells her child,
"When you are walking through the graveyard at night
and you see a boogeyman, run at it,
and it will go away."

"But what," replies the child, "if the boogeyman's
mother has told it to do the same thing?
Boogeymen have mothers too."

The second brother had no answer.

The judge then asked the youngest brother,
What if a man cannot be made to say anything?
How do you learn his hidden nature?"

"I sit in front of him in silence,
and set up a ladder made of patience,
and if in his presence a language from beyond joy
and beyond grief begins to pour from my chest,
I know that his soul is as deep and bright
as the star Canopus rising over Yemen.
And so when I start speaking a powerful right arm
of words sweeping down, I know him from what I say,
and how I say it, because there's a window open
between us, mixing the night air of our beings."

The youngest was, obviously,
the laziest. He won.

Coleman Barks version


Sunday, January 25, 2015

into the west


Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You’ve come to journey's end

Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All souls pass
Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don't say: 'We have come now to the end'
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again

And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping
And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West

Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, Annie Lennox
Lord of the Rings soundtrack


in praise of mortality


Want the change.
Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.
What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.
Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive.

And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

–Rainer Maria Rilke
Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XII
Anita Barrows/Joanna Macy translation


Saturday, January 24, 2015

not to worry

time lapse, Aeshna cynea freshly slipped

Böhringer Friedrich 

for a zoomable version with astonishing detail, 
click here 


Friday, January 23, 2015

might as well, sweet pea



Thursday, January 22, 2015

love is


love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail
it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive
it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

–E. E. Cummings


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

the transformation of material things


Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again.
Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.
Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.

–Chuang Chou
Lin Yutang translation


Tuesday, January 20, 2015



Monday, January 19, 2015

heaven to be


When I’d picture my death, I would be lying on my back,
and my spirit would rise to my belly-skin and out
like a sheet of wax paper the shape of a girl, furl
over from supine to prone and like the djinn’s
carpet begin to fly, low,
over our planet—heaven to be
unhurtable, and able to see without
cease or stint or stopperage,
to lie on the air, and look, and look,
not so different from my life, I would be
sheer with an almost not sore loneless,
looking at the earth as if seeing the earth
were my version of having a soul. But then
I could see my beloved, sort of standing
beside a kind of door in the sky—
not the door to the constellations,
to the pentangles, and borealis,
but a tidy flap at the bottom of the door in the
sky, like a little cat-door in the door,
through which is nothing. And he is saying to me that he must
go, now, it is time. And he does not
ask me, to go with him, but I feel
he would like me with him. And I do not think
it is a living nothing, where nonbeings
can make a kind of unearthly love, I
think it’s the nothing kind of nothing, I think
we go through the door and vanish together.
What depth of joy to take his arm,
pressing it against my breast
as lovers do in a formal walk,
and take that step.

–Sharon Olds 


Sunday, January 18, 2015

I wake to sleep


I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
 I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

–Theodore Roethke


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

black postcards


The calender all booked up, the future unknown.
The cable silently hums some folk song
but lacks a country. Snow falls in the gray sea. Shadows
fight out on the dock.

Halfway through your life, death turns up
and takes your pertinent measurements. We forget
the visit. Life goes on. But someone is sewing
the suit in silence.

—Tomas Tranströmer 
The Half-Finished Heaven 
translated by Robert Bly


Thursday, January 15, 2015



I think the dead are tender. Shall we kiss?–
My lady laughs, delighting in what is
If she but sighs, a bird puts out its tongue
She makes space lonely with a lovely song
She lilts a low soft language, and I hear
Down long sea-chambers of the inner ear.

We sing together; we sing mouth to mouth.
The garden is a river flowing south.
She cries out loud the soul's own secret joy;
She dances, and the ground bears her away.
She knows the speech of light, and makes it plain
A lively thing can come to life again.

I feel her presence in the common day,
In that slow dark that widens every eye.
She moves as water moves, and comes to me,
Stayed by what was, and pulled by what would be.

–Theodore Roethke


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This Hour and What Is Dead


Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.

At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy’s pants.
His love for me is like his sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven, But the needle pierces
clean through with each stroke of his hand.

And this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

God, that old furnace, keeps talking
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.
I’ve had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.

–Li-Young Lee

Monday, January 12, 2015

the swan


This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying — releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood —
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.

–Rainer Maria Rilke

excellent link


Sunday, January 11, 2015



The human body essentially recreates itself every six months.

Nearly every cell of hair and skin and bone dies and another is directed to its former place.

You are not who you were last November.

–Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:
What I Learned While Editing My Life

Saturday, January 10, 2015



Now the walker meets the giant oak.
Stone elk, it's crown is
furlongs wide against September ocean's
murky green.

Northern storm. Rowanberries ripen. 
Awake in the darkness, listening:
high above the tree top,
constellations stamping in their stalls.

–Tomas Tranströmer


Thursday, January 8, 2015

song of myself


I have heard what the talkers were talking,
the talk of the beginning and the end;
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Urge, and urge, and urge;
Always the procreant urge of the world.

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance—always
substance and increase, always sex;
Always a knit of identity—always distinction—always
a breed of life.

To elaborate is no avail—learn’d and unlearn’d feel that it is so.

Sure as the most certain sure, plumb in the uprights,
well entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery, here we stand.

Clear and sweet is my Soul, and clear and sweet is all that
is not my Soul.

Lack one lacks both, and the unseen is proved by the seen,
Till that becomes unseen, and receives proof in its turn.

Showing the best, and dividing it from the worst, age vexes age;
Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things,
while they discuss I am silent,
and go bathe and admire myself.

–Walt Whitman


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved



Not deepest grief,
Of course,
Nothing can help you
With that.
Maybe, but not now.
Now you are unreachable,
Alone with all that was
Awry between you.

Alone with what was said
and not said.
                      Saying it all
Now freely confessing
What you withheld then,
Admitting what you denied
Only a short while ago.

How obvious that you
Were often wrong and unkind.

Aware of all the good
Deeds you intended
That remained undone.
Aware of all the good
Between you
That Death has undone.

—Gregory Orr 

Monday, January 5, 2015

What Everybody Needs –Maria Popova

“The more personal you are willing to be and the more intimate you are willing to be about the details of your own life, the more universal you are.”

In 1994, Sherwin Nuland (1930–2014) — a remarkable surgeon and Yale clinical professor who in his nearly four decades of practice cared, truly cared, for more than 10,000 patients — received the National Book Award for his humanistic masterwork How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter (public library), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize that year. It is one of the most existentially elevating books I’ve ever read — a inquiry as much into how we exit this life as into how we fill its living moments with meaning, integrity and, ultimately, happiness. Four years later, Nuland followed up with How We Live (public library), addressing the art of aliveness — that spectacular resilience of which the human body and mind are capable — with equal wisdom and warmth.

Shortly after Nuland’s death in the spring of 2014, Krista Tippett — host of the sublime public radio show On Being and enchantress of the human spirit through the communion of conversation — shared her talk with Nuland, recorded several years earlier. The entire episode is absolutely fantastic, but one particular passage both illuminates the heart of Nuland’s legacy and articulates beautifully an essential, elemental truth — the same one at which Tolstoy and Gandhi arrived — that we, both as individuals and as a civilization, so easily let ourselves forget:

Do you know what I learned from writing [How We Die], if I learned nothing else? The more personal you are willing to be and the more intimate you are willing to be about the details of your own life, the more universal you are… And when I say universal, I don’t mean universal only within our culture… There’s a lot of balderdash thrown around — “You don’t understand people who live in Sri Lanka and their response to the tsunami because you just don’t know that culture.”
Well, there’s an element of that — but, to me, cultural differences are a kind of patina over the deepest psychosexual feelings that we have, that all human beings share.

To illustrate the inextricable connectedness of these deeper human truths, Nuland turns to a maxim that scholars attribute to the first-century Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden.” The phrase, the spirit of which Lucinda Williams echoed in her sublime paean to compassion, appears in the epitaph of Nuland’s excellent memoir of his father, Lost in America. He tells Tippett:

When you recognize that pain — and response to pain — is a universal thing, it helps explain so many things about others, just as it explains so much about yourself. It teaches you forbearance. It teaches you a moderation in your responses to other people’s behavior. It teaches you a sort of understanding. It essentially tells you what everybody needs. You know what everybody needs? You want to put it in a single word?
Everybody needs to be understood.
And out of that comes every form of love.
If someone truly feels that you understand them, an awful lot of neurotic behavior just disappears — disappears on your part, disappears on their part. So if you’re talking about what motivates this world to continue existing as a community, you’ve got to talk about love… And my argument is it comes out of your biology because on some level we understand all of this. We put it into religious forms. It’s almost like an excuse to deny our biology. We put it into pithy, sententious aphorisms, but it’s really coming out of our deepest physiological nature.

Listen to the full episode of On Being below and be sure to subscribe to this ennobling gift Krista Tippett puts into the world, then treat yourself to Nuland’s indispensable How We Live and How We Die. Dive deeper into the latter here.