August 23 — sending your daughter off into the world – Richard Wilbur “The Writer”

Friday, August 23, 2019

“Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:

I wish her a lucky passage.”

Students moved into our residence halls these past several days.  Moms and Dads and students hauling bedroom and study room stuff onto and off elevators.  Settling in;  a new year.  Next Monday morning the classes for Term One, 2019-20 begin.  The parking lots get crowded.

Richard Wilbur’s “The Writer” speaks to the hopes and restraints of parents as their children launch themselves out into a wider world.  The verse that leads this post comes three stanzas in (see just above), such a fine blessing when helping the leap out from home.

Best to read the poem out loud,  with pauses.   Blessings on our new term.

 

john sj

Today’s Post  “the writer”

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

     richard wilbur  March 1, 1921  –

About Wilbur’s poems, one reviewer for The Washington Post said, “Throughout his career Wilbur has shown, within the compass of his classicism, enviable variety. His poems describe fountains and fire trucks, grasshoppers and toads, European cities and country pleasures. All of them are easy to read, while being suffused with an astonishing verbal music and a compacted thoughtfulness that invite sustained reflection.”  {poets.org}

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August 21 — the 400th anniversary (+ 1 day) of “The American Heartbreak”

Wednesday,  August 21
“Four hundred years is a mighty long time.  Courage.”

Several days ago, my colleague and friend in the Detroit Mercy History Department suggested that The Work Day/Hard Time Poetry List give its attention to a vicious and important anniversary in the history of slavery.  As editor of the list, I am honored to post Roy’s essay interpreting Langston Hughes’ poem “We are the American Heartbreak” just one day after the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown landing of the first “20 Neggers” there.

Here is Roy’s interpretative post for today.  Best to read his historical note slowly, with pauses.

Thank you, Roy.

 

john sj

Jamestown 1619 – and Now:

On August 20, 1619, a privateer named the White Lion landed “20 and odd Negroes” at Jamestown, Virginia, then a lonely outpost of the English empire in the far-flung Atlantic world.  These Africans, who were stolen from their villages and families in Angola and forcibly transported across the vast ocean, were the first black slaves landed in the English colonies in North America, the forerunners of what a century and a half later would become the United States.  The English colonists bought these first twenty African souls with “victuals.”

We stand four hundred years removed from that foundational event in what Rev. Jim Wallis has called “America’s original sin” – our long and troubling encounter with slavery and racism.

And yet we remain deeply impacted by that event and what it set into motion.

African American poet Langston Hughes reflected on the meaning of that event in his brief poem, “We are the American Heartbreak,” which appeared in The Panther and the Lash (1967).  In these verses, he speaks for all African Americans of those earlier times and our own.

 

Today’s Post – “We are the American Heartbreak”

We are the American heartbreak —
The rock on which Freedom
Stumped its toe —
The great mistake
That Jamestown made
Long ago.

As contemporary Americans, we live – whether black, white, or something else – with the lingering effects of that foundational event at Jamestown in 1619 and the way our path to the present has unfolded over the past four centuries.  We’re not very good, individually or collectively, in thinking about, talking about, or doing something about the giant “elephant in the room,” that is American racism.  We prefer apathy and indifference and hopes and prayers for a brighter tomorrow.  We prefer to believe that time alone will heal the wounds, or that we’re already living in a “post-racial America,” or that those descended (if only metaphorically) from the “20 and odd Negroes” are being just a little too sensitive.

Hughes’s poem challenges us to reflect, I think, about what we can do, individually and collectively, to heal “the American heartbreak” – to correct “the great mistake.”  As the late poet Maya Angelou said at the 1992 inauguration of President Bill Clinton: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Four hundred years is a mighty long time.  Courage.

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August 16 – Maria Ibarra Frayre – “what it means to be Catholic when you’re a young, liberal, feminist . . . “

Friday,  August 6, 2019

Maria emailed this poem to the Poetry List in August 2018;   I emailed back: this is a very strong poem;  I would be willing to publish it as “anonymous.”   Maria wrote me back;   she would be happy to have it posted with her name giving her language deeper authority.   Many readers responded;  many more readers than is ordinary.

No strong poem is ordinary;  Maria’s surely is not ordinary either.  I am proud that the “Work Day in Hard Times” list has made a home for her strong language.    Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest weekend.

 

john sj

“But how can they believe me?
When sometimes I don’t even believe myself.
Maybe it’s time to be loud.”

Today’s Post –  “Being Catholic”
I wear my faith quietly,

like a pebble in your pocket

Smooth and cold,

Comforting when you hold it tight in your hand.

But to be more honest,

I wear my faith secretly, cautious of who

to tell the truth because

I’m not sure how my circle

of liberal, leftists, almost

socialists would take it.

How could I, a feminist who uses reason,

logic, and kindness, follow a church

that doesn’t let women be leaders?

Follow a God

who believes LGBTQ loved ones will rot in hell?

follow an institution

that rapes children?

Stop.

I want to tell them that

that isn’t my church, isn’t my God.

My God lives in jails and detention centers,

in water bottles left in the desert,

and school teachers who work too much for too little.

My God is in parents who love their gay

and trans kids as reflections

of God’s own image.

My faith is the holiness of women, the life

in service for others.

My God is liberation.

She is the power of the storm

and the stillness of it when it’s over.

She is Brown laborers

rebuilding a city,

and the sweat of their foreheads

feeding their families.

But how can they believe me? When

sometimes I don’t even believe myself.

Maybe it’s time to be loud.

As loud as the annoying (and wrong) fetus

fanatics who are pro-life without

really being pro-living.

Maybe it’s time to let my faith breathe. Take

my pebble and let throw it

in the water.

Let it make ripples.

No.

Let it make a fucking tsunami.

p.s.  Maria is the Southeast Michigan regional organizer for We the People Michigan. She immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was nine years old and grew up Southwest Detroit and Dearborn. Maria has been fighting for immigrant justice for almost a decade, including grassroots organizing and political advocacy. She works closely with grassroots organizations to create alternative systems of immigrant-centered support and working to put people of color and women in positions of leadership. Maria graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy with a degree in English, and then went on to get a Masters of Social Work at the University of Michigan. On her free time Maria likes going for hikes, drinking expensive tea, and after reading Maria’s poem three or four times today, I came upon Karen Tumulty’s Washington Post column, “Why am I still a Catholic.”

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August 14 — “Rutabaga” — a peasant guest at any meal”

Wednesday, August 14, 2019  —
“Through you we eat sunlight”

I had another poem queued up for today, but Laura Grace Weldon’s hymn to a Rutabaga took my imagination by storm.  No . . . perhaps not a storm, perhaps a late summer whisper.  Not all poems present themselves as solemn at first reading . . . a second, maybe a third reading though . . .  it’s wise to expect surprises at every turn, perhaps even awe.

Best to read the poem out loud,  with pauses.  Have a blest mid-work week day.

 

john sj

Today’s Post:  

“Rutabaga”  Laura Grace Weldon

You darken as my knife slices
blushing at what you become.
I save your thick leaves
and purple skin
to feed the cows.

A peasant guest at any meal
you agree to hide in fragrant stew
or gleam nakedly
in butter and chives.

Though your seeds are tiny
you grow with fierce will
grateful for poor soil and dry days,
heave up from the ground
under sheltering stalks
to sweeten with the frost.

Tonight we take you into our bodies
as if we do you a favor—
letting your molecules
become a higher being,
one that knows music and art.

But you share with us
what makes you a rutabaga.
Through you we eat sunlight,
taste the soil’s clamoring mysteries,

  

“Rutabaga” by Laura Grace Weldon, from Tending (Aldrich Press, 2013). © Laura Grace Weldon. Presented here by poet submission.

More about the author

Laura Grace Weldon’s happy childhood was marred by the presence of alligators under her bed. No one ever proved they weren’t real.

She found peace in a small forest behind her home, where she hoped small woodland creatures might grow to trust her and eat the offerings of food she brought each day. They didn’t.

She also sought refuge in books, happily bringing home dozens each week from that heavenly realm called The Library. When told, “get your nose out of that book and go outside” she rode her trusty pink bike for hours. Quite regularly she discovered the thrill of getting lost. Back then small girls found their own way home from construction sites, major highways and Lake Erie. The only consequence? A sense of adventure.

The continuing adventure has led Laura to write a book of poetry with nursing home residents, run support groups for abused children, teach nonviolence workshops, develop community enrichment programs and make messy art.

Laura lives on Bit of Earth Farm with her family. Although she’s not a particularly useful farm wench she takes part in raising cows, chickens, produce, honeybees, and the occasional ruckus. In her idle hours she writes essays and articles, edits other people’s books, spends time on the blog she said she’d never start, writes poetry, and is slow at work on her next book. Catch up with her at www.lauragraceweldon.com.

By the way, she’s learned that the alligators haunting us are exactly where any of us put them.

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August 12 – U.S Poet Laureate – “Which Joy Harjo poem”?

Monday August 12 – “which Joy Harjo poem”?

There are so many possible answers to this question.   Our campus is not yet used to all the rhythms of a fresh work year; we are still a little rusty about that word “ordinary”  (i.e., office hours and their attendant meetings, an urgency to emails and walks across campus, new surprises found hiding in our calendars that stir a scattering of nano panics:  “Yikes! is that due this week?  Where did summer’s leisure go?”   So a whole community of women and men start a year.   The “Work Day in a Hard Time” Poetry List comes alive too.)

One deep soul friend and companion over decades, Joy Harjo, as a resonant go-to poet, has gotten more complex.  “National Poet Laureate” opens her name-search in all sorts of directions.  The on-line publication “Poetry” offers a cluster of Joy’s work from across years of paying attention: ( “Joy Harjo, Newly-Appointed U.S. Poet Laureate, Reads Her Poems,  ‘Remember,’ ‘A Poem to Get Rid of fear,’ ‘An American Sunrise’ and More.”)   For this early August day, I chose “Grace.”  Readers of this list should not be surprised.  I love “Grace;” so specific and close to the ground, alive with subtle memories, harsh and tender both.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blessed work week here in mid-August.

john sj

 

Today’s Post:   “Grace” (last posted March 22, 2019)

I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway

in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze
imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks.

The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat
dreams, and we couldn’t stand it one more time.

So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment
walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us,
in the epic search for grace.

Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a
season of false midnights.

We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey.

And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with
coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.

I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from

memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance.

We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the
hope of children and corn.

I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw.

We didn’t; the next season was worse.

You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south.

And, Wind, I am still crazy.

I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.

Joy Harjo 2012.
(b. May 9, 1951)

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August 9 – First full work week, academic year, 2019

Friday, August 9, 2019

This Friday recalls Friday May 31 – when the Poetry List went on summer break.   Together with last Monday’s Mary Oliver voice, Thomas Merton opens week one with the same words with which he concluded last May: words of mysticism.

*****
***** *****
*****
***** *****
*****
***** *****

“For this last poem of the academic year, I looked back to May of 2015 for a strong poet’s voice.  I found as short poem written by Thomas Merton.   In his later years, Merton’s awareness of the power of mysticism kept on maturing.  More than many sacred writers, Merton dove deep into the secular west (Paris, London, New York);  into Eastern Mysticism’s creative tension with Western mysticism;   into U.S. Trappist monastic living (i.e., Gethsemani Abby Kentucky) from his entrance on Dec 10, 1941 until his accidental death the same day and year that theologian Karl Barth died, Dec 10, 1968).

Mystics respect the poverty of human language. Words are not the author’s property.  Words are not the reader’s property either.  A poet’s words invite you to find yourself somewhere — mysterious and alive.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Back to a more regular rhythm this first week of August.

Have a blest summer.

john sj”

Today’s Post – A Song to Nobody

A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)
A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.


“There is no way of telling strangers they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Thomas Merton
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Merton
January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968

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Monday, August 5 – Poetry List summer break ends today with Mary Oliver

“One day you finally knew
what you had to do”

Readers often surprise me with stories about a poem or a poet or self stories about insight and decision.  Sometimes the stories take me back to September 2013 when this list began during some hard times in the city and on campus.  The hard times became an intuition that led to this list, 690 posts ago.  The original wording appears at the top of the archive blog where all previous posts appear.  I re-read it now and then to remind me of the origins.  Check it out.  http://sites.udmercy.edu/mission-and-identity

Best to read Mary Oliver out loud, with pauses.

Monday afternoon;  have a blest August week.

john sj

 

Today’s Post “The Journey”

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

Mary Oliver

September 10, 1935

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May 31 – Summer begins

Friday, May 31  –  Thomas Merton

“Let no one touch this gentle sun  —
In whose dark eye  —
Someone is awake.”

For this last poem of the academic year, I looked back to May of 2015 for a strong poet’s voice.  I found this short poem written by Thomas Merton.   In his later years, Merton’s awareness of the power of mysticism kept on maturing.  More than many sacred writers, Merton dove deep into the secular west (Paris, London, New York);  into Eastern Mysticism in creative tension with Western mysticism;   into Trappist monastic living (i.e., Gethsemani Abby from his entrance on Dec 10, 1941 until his accidental death the same day and year that theologian Karl Barth died, Dec 10, 1968).

Mystics respect the poverty of human language. Words are not the author’s property.  Words are not the reader’s property either.  A poet’s words invite you to find your self somewhere — mysterious and alive.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

p.s. June and July can interrupt the regular rhythms of work, surprise us, catch the playful in us more than ordinarily.   If a post appears on the list during these next two months, it means someone’s strong words surprised me and made me want to share the surprise.

Back to a more regular rhythm the first week of August.

Have a blest summer.

 

john sj

Today’s Post – A Song to Nobody

A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)
A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.

“There is no way of telling strangers they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Thomas Merton
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Merton
January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968

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May 28 “Renewed Commitment of the Jesuit Refugee Service”

Tuesday,  May 28  JRS  — “Home”  Warsan Shire

Thinking, on Memorial Day, about tomorrow’s post on May 28;  my remembering killed and maimed soldiers and honoring their sufferings intersected with reading a world wide letter from the Superior General of us Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa, sj.   The letter came out recently and is titled  “Renewed Commitment of the Jesuit Refugee Service.”

One of our great saints and heroes, General Superior Pedro Arrupe (1907 – 1991), wrote the Jesuits across the world in 1980 calling us to give our hearts and our attention and our resources to the global crisis of homeless refugees.  (n.b., Last year “68.5 million people walk the ways of the world after being forced from their homes.”)   This is another call to honor the victims of war on this Memorial Day.

Best to read Warsan Shire’s stark “Home” out loud, with pauses.  We’ve posted “Home” several times before;  like many strong poems, it bears re-reading.

Have a blest week.

 

john sj

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedro_Arrupe

Today’s Post: – Warsan Shire, “Home”

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 neighbours running faster

than you, 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 would leave home unless home chased you, fire under feet,

hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about doing, and so when you did –

you carried the anthem under your breath, waiting until the airport toilet

to tear up the passport and swallow,

each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back.

you have to understand,

no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days

and nights in the stomach of a truck

unless the miles traveled

meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,

be beaten until your shadow leaves you,

raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of

the boat because you are darker, be sold,

starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,

be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,

make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,

stripped and searched, find prison everywhere

and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side

with go home blacks, refugees

dirty immigrants, asylum seekers

sucking our country dry of milk,

dark, with their hands out

smell strange, savage –

look what they’ve done to their own countries,

what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street

softer than a limb torn off,

the indignity of everyday life

more tender than fourteen men who

look like your father, between

your legs, easier to swallow

than rubble, than your child’s body

in pieces – for now, forget about pride

your survival is more important.

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 tells you to

leave what you could not behind, even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home

is a damp voice in your ear saying

leave, run now, i don’t know what

i’ve become.

Warsan Shire b. 1 August 1988
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsan_Shire

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May 22 – still tulip time

May 22, 2019

“to keep his date with love”

Today, a little past mid May, during an iffy spring alive with teasing weather, feels like a good day to read W. H. Auden’s puckish celebration of love’s passion and tenderness around and through these fickle, unpredictable work days.   Sure, a little time to pause and read this poem out loud can do us all good.

Have a blest Wednesday

john sj

Detroit Mercy campus, April 22, 2006

Today’s Post –  “Song”

The chimney sweepers
Wash their faces and forget to wash the neck;
The lighthouse keepers
Let the lamps go out and leave the ships to wreck;
The prosperous baker
Leaves the rolls in hundreds in the oven to burn;
The undertaker
Pins a small note on the coffin saying, “Wait till I return,
I’ve got a date with Love.”

And deep-sea divers
Cut their boots off and come bubbling to the top,
And engine-drivers
Bring expresses in the tunnel to a stop;
The village rector
Dashes down the side-aisle half-way through a psalm;
The sanitary inspector
Runs off with the cover of the cesspool on his arm-
To keep his date with Love.

February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973

Poem: “Song” by W.H. Auden, from As I Walk Out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse. © Vintage Books. Reprinted with permission

 

p.s. A prayer;

Give me a grateful heart to live from
Attentive to savor the blessings received
Playful to expect your surprises
Trusting, to commit myself to Your commitment to me.

A teaching about prayer:

Ignatius suggests that every day I consider the inner “movements” of that day but that before I consider, I begin with gratitude for my life as it is now (not as it may become in my future).

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