Feb 22 — Jan Kenyon, “Happiness” “. . . the way it turns up like a prodigal . . . “

Wednesday, February 22  “There’s just no accounting for happiness”  

I’d not met Jane Kenyon until David Grubin caught my attention with her “Happiness” in an email this morning.   Kenyon gets it about understated and playful joy emerging from tough work-a-day realities.  She reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” and W H Auden’s “Song”  (Jan 25 post).  It happens that during these past days of angry news, I’ve been looking for subtle poems that show readers playful delight that has paid its dues in grief but are not locked down there.

In severe and dangerous times, strong poetry is more important than in easier times. J K makes space for both in “happiness.”

Best to read out loud, with pauses.   Mid-week.  Have a blest day.


john sj


Today’s Post:   “HAPPINESS”
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.


Jane Kenyon (b. 1947 – d. 1995  {leukemia} )

Note # 1)

In Today’s AJCU Conversations, Ron Bernas’s “Living the Mission at the University of  Detroit Mercy” is a great read;  makes me proud to work here.

(http://www.ajcunet.edu/february-2017-connections-mission-identity-programs-on-jesuit-campuses/2017/2/14/university-of-detroit-mercy-thematic  )

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Feb 20 – Home from sending a soul friend home for good

Monday, February 20,

I was gone most of last week to Long Island where we buried Connie di Biase in the heart of her Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, NY.    This morning as the university celebrates Presidents’ Day with a visit of high school students exploring our world as a possibility for the next fall, a friend from Brentwood, Jeanne Ross, c.s.j.  emailed to thank me for coming to share Connie’s funeral and cremation.

“I think we gave Connie a great send off. Your homily was quite poignant and we could hear the pain of your loss. I hope the days and weeks ahead will be grace-filled as you deal with the absence of your soul-mate.”

My sister Mary traveled with me; she was close to Connie too.  After the funeral, we took the Port Jefferson ferry from Long Island to Connecticut,  along the coast to Madison where Connie lived and welcomed hundreds of women and men to her condominium.  She lived on the banks of the tidal estuary Hammonasset River. Listening over a meal or on the phone, Connie helped storytellers find the beauty and grace alive in their confusing and hard places.    It mattered on last Thursday’s sun drenched afternoon that we could sit on Connie’s back porch and be still, honoring the years our friend sat on the porch, listening and allowing stillness to build and beauty to deepen on the estuary and in peoples’ stories.

From last February, when Gerry Stockhausen’s death was one month old, I found this poem.   It was first posted on February 26, 2016.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest work week.


john sj

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each object which your eyes beheld

Today I share love poems written by Broadside Press authors Gwendolyn Brooks and S. Carolyn Reese. Brooks is likely familiar to some list readers but Reese, a Detroit-based poet, may be a new voice. She was to me. I discovered her work in the Dudley Randall Broadside Press special collection, archived in the Detroit Mercy McNichols Campus Library.

It was the first time I had gone through the complete material archive. Although I have read many of the works in reproduction, it was something else entirely to hold each original broadside, chapbook, or volume in my hands.

Reese’s “Letter from a Wife,” published by Broadside in 1967, was written to her husband while he was in Mississippi working in support of civil rights actions. Both Reese’s poem and  Gwendolyn Brooks’s “when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story” reveal the complete material ways  lovers come to imbue our lives—through the things we hold that are filled and emptied by love.


“Letter from a Wife”
S. Carolyn Reese

I retrace your path in my bare feet
Press my lips against your empty cup
Touch your clothes for now-gone warmth
View each object which your eyes beheld
Write your name and speak the same
I bless each day you elude the pack
Rehearse each word of love we spoke
Recall the vows your eyes declared
Your last touch lingers with me still
I face each day with dragging feet-weary heart
Apart-from-you takes half my strength
The rest I need for waiting.


“when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story”
Gwendolyn Brooks

—-And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes
on a Wednesday and a Saturday,
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday—-
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
Looking off down the long street
To nowhere,
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
And nothing-I-have-to-do and I’m-happy-why?
And if-Monday-never-had-to-come—-
When you have forgotten that, I say,
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,
That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
Or chicken and rice
And salad and rye bread and tea
And chocolate chip cookies—–
I say, when you have forgotten that,
When you have forgotten my little presentiment
That the war would be over before they got to you;
And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,
And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
Bright bedclothes,
Then gently folded into each other—–
When you have, I say, forgotten all that,
Then you may tell,
Then I may believe
You have forgotten me well.


Original 1967 broadside of “Letter from a Wife”
with many thanks to Associate Librarian Pat Higo and the Dudley Randall Broadside Press special collection


Rosemary Weatherston, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English
Director, Women’s & Gender Studies Program
Director, Dudley Randall Center for Print Culture



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after all I am your own

This week, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I am very pleased to share with A Work Day in Hard Times readers some of the love poems written by Broadside Press authors.

Dudley Randall, founder and editor of Broadside Press, wrote often and beautifully of love. Some of his best known poems, such as “The Profile on the Pillow,” capture those fleeting moments when our beloveds are present to us in all of their perfection.

In “Anniversary Words” Randall captures a different face of love, one all-too present to our foibles and imperfections and, for that very reason, perhaps even more lovely.


“Anniversary Words”

You who have shared my scanty bread with me
and borne my carelessness and forgetfulness
with only occasional lack of tenderness,
who have long patiently endured my faculty
for genial neglect of practicality,
for forgetting the morning and the parting caress
and for leaving rooms in a great disorderliness
which when I entered were as neat as they could be,

despite the absent-mindedness of my ways
and the not seldom acerbity of your tone,
I sometimes catch a softness in your gaze
which tells me after all I am your own
and that you love me in no little way.
But I know it best by the things you never say.


Rosemary Weatherston, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English
Director, Women’s & Gender Studies Program
Director, Dudley Randall Center for Print Culture

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Feb 10 – David Whyte and Denise Levertov — for angry times

Friday, February 10  “the well of grief” —  “the mineshaft of passion”

Anger does best when I can bring it to stillness, when an anger’s source in grief becomes accessible to me.   There’s lots of anger in the land these days.  Here are two poets who frequently grace these posts, writing their way into holy sorrow.   Try reading them, but not both right in a row; put pauses in between to let the words seep into your day.

That it is Friday has got me stretching and smiling some, as in  “T.G.I.F.”   Blessings on these couple days.


john sj

Post # 1   David Whyte  “The Well of Grief” 

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,

     the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.


Risking Everything

David Whyte b. 1955


Post  # 2  Denise Levertov  “the Mineshaft of passion”

And the poet–it’s midnight, the room is half empty, soon we must part–
the poet, his presence
ursine and kind, shifting his weight in a chair too small for him,
quietly says, and shyly:
“The Poet
never must lose despair.”

Then our eyes indeed
meet and hold,
All of us know, smiling
in common knowledge–
even the palest spirit among us, burdened
as he is with weight of abstractions–
all of us know he means
we mustn’t, any of us, lose touch with the source,
pretend it’s not there, cover over
the mineshaft of passion
despair somberly tolls its bell
from the depths of,

and wildest joy
sings out of too,
the scales of its laughing, improbable music,
grief and delight entwined in the dark down there.


Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

from: “Conversation in Moscow” in Freeing of the Dust

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Feb 8 – half-way through February’s 2nd week

Wednesday, February 8  “Now it is time to site quiet, face to face with thee . . .”

Lots of noisy news these days, clatter of strategies and counter strategies  —  such times want, I find myself saying  —  breathing times.  While turning the pages of poets who have helped me find stillness before, Tagore caught my attention with Gitanjali # 5.   This summertime poem can make a place in February too.

Best to read the poem out loud with pauses.

Have a blest day.


john sj


Today’s post –  Rabindranath Tagore Gitanjali,  # 5

I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side. The works
that I have in hand I will finish afterwards.

Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.

Today the summer has come at my window with its sighs and murmurs; and
the bees are plying their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove.

Now it is time to sit quiet, face to face with thee, and to sing
dedication of life in this silent and overflowing leisure.

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Feb 6. Three voices: a prophet, a pope, and a poet

Monday, February 6, 2017
“If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech” . . . Isaiah 58

Pre-note: today’s post is longer than ordinary, and quotes 3 authors, the prophet Isaiah, Pope Francis, and the poet Warsan Shire. I think you may find them worth the time they require.

Have a blest Monday of this work week.
John st sj

********    ********    ********

Yesterday, two seemingly unrelated texts came my way. The first is the Warsan Shire poem, “Home,” new to me, sent by a soul friend in our English Department. The second is familiar, Isaiah’s eloquent prophecy from Chapter 58 for this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time.. “Unrelated”? Only on the surface: the tensions roiling the world because of the Trump Administration’s ban on people entering the U.S. from 7 majority Muslim countries and a Federal Judge’s block of the ban. In a country grown from immigrants, fear and anger about “the stranger” should not surprise. Yet such anger in the land wears on us all. It helps me to remember that fear of and violence toward immigrants has erupted in my country before, (e.g. 1844, 1877, 1920-24). Such troubles aren’t new during the 2+ centuries of the U.S. either. Isaiah addressed them many centuries ago.

Text # 1: Isaiah 58:7-10

Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

In July, 2013, for his first trip as Pope, Francis chose the tiny island of Lampedusa, just off Sicily, a place home to the dangers and deaths of immigrants trying to enter Europe. That day Francis spoke to the whole world to “reawaken our consciences.” Here is a short clip.

Text # 2: Pope Francis:

“Immigrants who died at sea, from that boat that, instead of being a way of hope was a way of death. . . . . I felt that I ought to come here today to pray, to make a gesture of closeness, but also to reawaken our consciences so that what happened would not be repeated. Not repeated, please!”

Text # 3: – Warsan Shire, “Home”

This is the second Warsan Shire poem for the Work Day/Hard Time list. Her words remind me of Isaiah 58, yesterday’s first scripture. As always, it’s best to read the poet out loud, with pauses but I find it a lot harder than most Work Day posts, to read these words out loud.


no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well


your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.


no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.


you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten


no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough


go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off


or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important


no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

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Feb 3 — no longer a teenager Gerald Locklin

Friday, February 3   “i stay alive for her.”

Today begins a weekend and some soft time for home places — Detroit, my university, the neighborhood,  my house, and neighbors.  No packing for a while either. 😊  Looking for a Friday poem, I paged through one of Garrison Keillor’s anthologies (Good Poems:  for hard times, as heard on The Writers’ Almanac)  and found Gerald Locklin, a writer new to me.  Maybe new to you too.  He writes of a parent,  like many people who work here and many readers on this list who live in other places, and writes of a young adult, like many students, here and in many places.

Aloud,  with pauses;  have a blest weekend.


john st sj

Today’s Post  “No Longer A Teenager”  —  Gerald Locklin

my daughter, who turns twenty tomorrow,
has become truly independent.
she doesn’t need her father to help her
deal with the bureaucracies of schools,
hmo’s, insurance, the dmv.
she is quite capable of handling
landlords, bosses, and auto repair shops.
also boyfriends and roommates.
and her mother.

frankly it’s been a big relief.
the teenage years were often stressful.
sometimes, though, i feel a little useless.

but when she drove down from northern California
to visit us for a couple of days,
she came through the door with the

biggest, warmest hug in the world for me.
and when we all went out for lunch,
she said, affecting a little girl’s voice,
“i’m going to sit next to my daddy,”
and she did, and slid over close to me
so i could put my arm around her shoulder
until the food arrived.

i’ve been keeping busy since she’s been gone,
mainly with my teaching and writing,
a little travel connected with both,
but i realized now how long it had been
since i had felt deep emotion.

when she left i said, simply,
“i love you,”
and she replied, quietly,
“i love you too.”
you know it isn’t always easy for
a twenty-year-old to say that;
it isn’t always easy for a father.

literature and opera are full of
characters who die for love:
i stay alive for her.


b 1941


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Feb 1 Rumi

Wednesday,  February 1

Wednesday, February 1  –   Rumi    “ . . .  as an unexpected visitor”
1st posted January 28, 2015

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī  (جلال‌الدین محمد رومی‎)   Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic 1207-1273.   A friend, who reads this list, sent me Rumi’s “The Guest House.”   Her note reminded me that I had managed to post over 200 poems and prayers without inviting Rumi onto the list.  “The Guest House” is a good poem to welcome another great poet here.

It’s the middle work day of the last January week.  Some friends from the east coast have told me stories of blizzards out there.  Some friends on campus talk about how cold it is.  A good day for welcoming what comes our way.   Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

john sj

Today’s Post “The Guest House”

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


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busy day — short poem, shorter context

Friday, January 27

A Trustee meeting today;  off to DC for a conference tomorrow.

Here is a wonderful, long-loved poem.  One version of many.

Have a blest weekend,



Today’s Post  “St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
God’s eye to watch,  God’s might to stay,
God’s ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to war;
The word of God to give me speech,
God’s heavenly host to be my guard

Christ, be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

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