March 21 – in hard times beauty can take us by surprise

Wednesday March 20    “add texture and evoke delight”

The poetry list was born from an intuition that in hard times,  it’s important to watch one’s vocabulary.  Some days “hard times” come at us as relentless gloomy weather, sometimes with frightening news from some place in the world, sometimes savage grief from a terrible loss. Poetry engages our imaginations on good days and bad.

Here’s the lead theme statement that appeared on day one of the Post September 25, 2013.  It has served as the blog’s lead-off banner ever since, 565 poem-posts ago.

“In easy times you don’t have to be so careful about your language; you will spontaneously find playful words, wise with kindness.  In hard times it helps to pay attention to word choices lest we slide into cynical, frightened or bitter language that biases our imaginations.  The poems or sacred texts in these posts are beautiful, just the thing to pay attention to in hard times.” ~john sj

One of the list’s readers wrote this poem about 5 days ago and had the kindness to send it.  Simple, clean language that touches my heart.   Yours too, I’d bet.   It’s short; best remember to pause and breathe.

Blessings to you in mid-week.


john sj


Today’s post – anonymous

glowing barren branches

glisten in the dawn


the beauty of this morning’s light

transforms the disheveled state of the yard

and my spirit


leaves left to overwinter and decay on the lawn

add texture and evoke delight

not despair



february 26, 2018

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March 19 – W H Auden – “to keep a date with love”

Monday, March 19

These weeks of March, where I live in Michigan, do a lot of teasing.  Glorious sun with hints of warm weather to come, bringing a rash of flowers and then some gray days line up one after another.  Our March is not as tough as deep ice and snow in Maine, but the gray lineup can get wearing.  On our three campuses, the pulse of learning and teaching has pretty much hit stride for what we call “Winter Term.”   Final exams live off in the distance, and when they arrive, so will the flowering trees and tulips.

Today seems 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 Monday.

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

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March 14 – David Whyte “The Journey”

Wednesday, March 14 “so you can find the one line
already written inside you.”

St. Ignatius teaches the art of noticing what wants to be remembered. Try to remember everything and you turn wacky before long. Noticing what wants your attention, wants to surprise you, wants to encourage you, wants to keep you company during fatigue and grief — that, for Ignatius, is the heart of prayer, day in and day out.

Today’s poet, David Whyte, gets it. To entice you to read the poem out loud, with pauses, an audio of his voice reading today’s post waits for you after the text and a picture. Have a blest day mid-week in mid-March.

john sj

Today’s Post “The Journey”

Above the mountains

the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

from House of Belonging by David Whyte

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March 12 — laughter from the 14th century -Meister Eckhart

Monday, March 12, 2018

“laughter begets liking,
and liking begets joy, and joy begets love”

Meister Eckhart, a German Dominican, theologian, philosopher and mystic, was known for his scholarly writings and for sermons addressed to ordinary people as well as to women and men more visibly active in Church life.   Eckhart died just twenty years before the peak of the European pandemic known as The Black Death which killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s people.  One might be inclined to set his intuition about the identity of God as embodied in laughter and affection as an antidote, before the fact, to address the terrified and violent fears that convulsed Europe in the mid-14th century;  the living worked to bury the corpses of some 100 to 200 million of those who died around them.  A grim time badly in need of the rebirth of Europe’s sense of humor and playfulness.

How, in the midst of 2018’s blaming and anger and fear, does a university challenge its students to risk the terrors of self-discovery and of attention to the whole fabric of human behavior while encouraging in those same students a resilient sense of humor about that same human condition?   It is a teacher’s great challenge and one of the graces that strong mentors offer their students and students, with their resilient capacity for surprise, offer their faculty and one another.

This saying of Meister Eckhart might make a good short text to read out loud in front of your mirror as winter grows overlong and stirs one’s less attractive sides when under pressure.  A university’s life grows from daring hope that all of its citizens — faculty and students and staff alike and, yes, one’s neighbors too — carry in themselves the inner stuff to find their voice and engage the real world.   Meister Eckhart reminds me of a 20th century mystic, Thomas Merton (January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968)   who wrote in one of his contemplative works a brave statement of wonder for hard times:  “There is no way of telling strangers they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Have a blest day,

john st sj

Today’s Post — This saying is attributed to Meister Eckhart.

Indeed I say, the soul will bring forth Person
if God laughs to her and she laughs back to him.
To speak in parable, the Father laughs to the Son
and the Son laughs back to the Father;

And this laughter begets liking,
and liking begets joy, and joy begets love,
and love begets Person,
and Person begets the Holy Spirit.

Meister Eckhart  (c. 1260 – c. 1327)

Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

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march 7 – David Whyte – “Enough”

Wednesday March 7

“It’s worth it,” says the wind;  we mean to say that too as we catch  each other’s eyes hurrying to get our work done or when we find time to sit still and taste some moments without hurry in them.  David Whyte’s short poem makes a good breathing space either way:  in a hurry;   sitting still;     in a hurry;   sitting still.   Maybe the soft snow falling out my window tips my inner appetite this morning toward stillness.

No matter where you are as you read this,  David Whyte is worth some time.

Have a blest day.

john sj

Today’s Post   “Enough”

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

David Whyte, in Where Many Rivers Meet, 1990

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March 5 – Mary Oliver returning

Monday March 5, 2018

For some reason, Mary Oliver has not visited this post in a while.  This morning, I found her writing alive on the doorstep and looked for language from her that is new to me.  Good stuff too, for this morning when my campus settles into Spring Break (less traffic on the Mc Nichols campus;  some daring adventures we call ASB, Alternative Spring Break, in some places that might welcome students and student-mentors.   “Come and spend some time with us,”  the places say;   “risk meeting people who are new to you,  risk imagining people older than you,  younger than you,  more wounded than you?”  Perhaps not; there are lots of wounds to go around but perhaps people whose wounds smell different.

Alternative Spring Break can become a bed of stories that surprise you, and when you return to the McNichol’s campus next week, you can surprise some of us who’ve been here prepping for the last weeks of Term 2.

Here’s what I found in Mary O’s 2016 book, Upstream.   Reading it out loud offers some of Mary O’s own surprises.

Have a blest week.

john st sj

Today’s Post

“In the winter I am writing about, there was much darkness. Darkness of nature, darkness of event, darkness of the spirit. The sprawling darkness of not knowing.

We speak of the light of reason. I would speak here of the darkness of the world, and the light of———. But I don’t know what to call it. Maybe hope. Maybe faith, but not a shaped faith—only, say, a gesture, or a continuum of gestures. But probably it is closer to hope, that is more active, and far messier than faith must be. Faith, as I imagine it, is tensile, and cool, and has no need of words. Hope, I know, is a fighter and a screamer.”


From Upstream:
Selected essays

Mary Oliver b. September 10, 1935

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March 2 — Pablo Neruda — “Keeping Quiet”

Friday, March 2
“perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves”

Mary Ann and I have been soul friends since the mid-1970s in Philly.  Our lives do not offer us many blessings of face time but we have traveled the world with our mutual stories, sometimes pictures, sometimes poems.  She wrote me early this week, a story taking me with her across 3 continents.   Somewhere among the stories she placed a poem by a Pablo Neruda, long-loved by both of us.  I’ve tasted “Keeping Quiet” a few times already.   Now I will pass it along to the c. 2500 readers of this list.  Two gifts here from me:  some hints of Mary Ann over decades of my life and the power of Neruda’s imagination.

Our pretty magical fluff snow of yesterday is still here though predicts sun and some melt this afternoon.  I know I often encourage reading out loud with pauses; Neruda will reward that too.   Have a blest weekend.


john sj

Today’s Post    “Keeping Quiet”

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about…
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.


b. July 1904  d. September 1973

Extravagaria : A Bilingual Edition
by Pablo Neruda (Author), Alastair Reid (Translator)
Noonday Press; Bilingual edition (January 2001)

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You and I are call and response

Our second Broadside Lotus Press poet this week, Aneb Kgositsile (Dr. Gloria House), is the author of the collection Medicine: New and Selected Poems (2017). The book is the most recent co-publication by Broadside Lotus Press and the University of Detroit Mercy Press. Our previous collaborations include the anthology and CD A Different Image: The Legacy of Broadside Press, which won the Library of Michigan Notable Book Award in 2005, and the poetry collection Solitude of Five Black Moons, by Aurora Harris, which received the PEN-Oakland Josephine Miles Excellence in Multicultural Literature Award in 2012.

We hope to bring Aneb to Detroit Mercy’s campus for a reading during Poetry month in April. Until then, I offer you the poem “For You, This Circle,” one of my favorites in the collection that was written on the occasion of her receipt of the Lifetime Activist Achievement Award of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights. I love how the poem opens the occasion into a celebration of those who are gathered. In doing so, it embodies a vision of the written word as a living art form intimately connected to community and to self-determination.


For You, This Circle
(This circle of family, friends, comrades, co-workers, teachers, and students, gathered here)

You, this circle, welcomed me,
permitted me to speak to you and for you;
urged me to propose, to imagine, to teach, to dream.
You, this circle, envisioning a new world,
pulled me into your embrace and carried me forward.

You forgave my frequent failures.
You nodded in understanding.
You called on me for help –
which made me strong.

You then applauded my strength,
as if it had not been you
who engendered it in me.
You polished the gifts
I brought.

You and I are call and response,
river and sea,
flint and fire,
daffodil and Spring;
each other’s promise of what is good and beautiful,
each other’s reason for being.

Arm in arm, knit together in that vast invisible lace
that is Love,
we pursue the world of justice already awake
and waiting in our souls.

You honor me now with praise.
I salute you now with gratitude and thanksgiving.


Marygrove College, Detroit, MI
April 30, 2017

Aneb Kgositsile (Gloria House, Ph.D.) is Professor Emerita in Humanities and African American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Associate Professor Emerita in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department of Wayne State University. Aneb is the former Director of the African American Studies Program at the University of Michigan Dearborn. She has been an activist in human rights struggles in the U.S. and abroad since the 1960’s, when she was an organizer in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She is the co-founder of the Justice for Cuba Coalition and the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. Over several decades, she contributed to the development of three African-centered schools in Detroit: Aisha/Dubois, Nsoroma Institute and Timbuktu Academy. From 1992 to 1996, she was a Visiting Professor in the English Department, and Director of the Partnership with Township High Schools at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is currently engaged in the freedom school movement in Detroit.

Aneb has published three previous poetry collections, Blood River (Broadside Press, 1983), Rainrituals (Broadside Press, 1989), Shrines (Third World Press, 2004), and a book of commentary on the political uses of environment in the United States, Tower and Dungeon: A Study of Place and Power in American Culture; and served as lead editor of the anthology, A Different Image: The Legacy of Broadside Press. Her most recent publications include an essay, “The Detroit ’67 Rebellion: The Long Aftermath,” 2017 Catalogue of the Detroit Public Library; a chapter in Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts of Women in SNCC; and a book, Home Sweet Sanctuary: Idlewild Families Celebrate a Century, a cultural study of the African American resort community in Northern Michigan.


From the foreword to Medicine: New and Selected Poems, written by Dr. Michael Simanga:

Aneb Kgositsile is one of our best poets. She is a healer who has organized a cupboard full of secrets gathered from gardens, recipes sewn into quilts, and methodology passed on in whispers. She has written them down in her new collection of poems, Medicine. This book, her fourth collection of poetry, could only come from a poet who is so planted in the black soil and the red clay that the images she spills out over the page cause us to stop, not pause, but stop, close our eyes and let the memory drift up and into our senses where we can taste and smell and feel. Surrender to her spell is strange and wonderful because the individual memory is summoned, but seems incidental. The appeal is for wide, deep connection to spirit, collective consciousness, and remembrances from so far back the names of the original tellers are difficult to recall. Medicine is a book to be carried in a pocket close to the heart. It is collective stories smuggled from person to person, family to family, community to community, south to north, north to west, across rivers and oceans.


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

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I am firmly planted

This week, in celebration of African American History Month, I am pleased to be guest editing and to share with A Work Day in Hard Times readers some of the most recent poetry published by Broadside Lotus Press.

The 2015 merger of Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press (1965) and Naomi Long Madgett’s Lotus Press (1972) represented the union of two extraordinary literary heritages. Both Randall and Madgett were publishing pioneers of African American literature. The merger equally represented, however, the alignment of two powerful visions of the future of African American literature in the 21st century.

Our first Broadside Lotus Press poet, Malaika Favorite, was the winner of the 2016 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. Her collection, Ascension, is rooted in the Africana folkways, lore, and history of Louisiana.  In the poem “If I Plant You, Will You Grow?” Favorite draws on many threads of her heritage to newly imagine a future for herself and, perhaps, some of her readers.


If I Plant You, Will You Grow?


My father was ordered to get off the train.

There was no room in the Colored-only section

for his bag of plus size aspirations.

He tried walking towards success,

but got no further than the house down the street,

where he met my mother. As soon as I was born,

he took out his seed-packets of dreams

and started feeding me.

I had no choice but to swallow.

Mom planted me with rules and responsibilities:

A girl must, a wife should, a woman

is expected to show only so much.

She slipped stories into my pocket:

We used to, we had to, we did what we could.

They sent me off to the Negro school,

where I was plowed into rows.

Cornrows in my hair,

cornrows in the field of memory.

Put in a seed take out a cucumber.

Put in a vine take out a sweet potato.

Drop some words, dig up a sentence.

The Negro school sharecropped me

out to the white school.

The garden there was tall,

fertilized with green bills.

They kicked me around and tried to uproot me,

but I grew myself a fence of holy words.

They transplanted me into the hothouse

of Louisiana State University

Agricultural and Mechanical College

to learn modern farming techniques —

how to plant wet words,

how to grow numbers, add,

multiply and divide large quantities of seeds,

how to extract meaning from the lines in a naked body;

how to graft oil-base paint

into fields of cotton canvas.

I became a farmer of cotton-duck,

selling by the yard at the local farmers market.

I dug up Daddy’s dreams

and dusted off Momma’s stories.

Replanted them in fields of washboards,

scattered them on solid white cotton pages.

I am firmly planted.

(image from the Furious Flower Poetry Center website)


Malaika Favorite is a writer and visual artist who lives in Augusta, GA. She is the author of Illuminated Manuscript and Dreaming at the Manor. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including Pen International, Hurricane Blues, Drumvoices Review, Xavier Review, The Maple Leaf Rag, Visions International, Louisiana Literature, Louisiana English Journal, and Southern Quarterly. She is the winner of the 2005 Louisiana Literature Prize for Poetry. She is the artist of a major portrait painting-quilt that represents twenty-four contemporary and past poets of the African Diaspora, commissioned by Dr. Joanne Gabbin, coordinator of the Furious Flower Poetry Center.

Ascension is a collection of poems rooted in the Africana folkways, lore, and history of Louisiana. Palpable images pull the reader into the turbulent waters and horrors of the Atlantic slave trade, into homes battered by relentless rain and a flooding river, and finally to moments of contemplation and reverence for the land. With a measured, lean, and luminous style, the poet shares her intimate experience of place—home, familiar rituals, sites of historic resonance, and consciousness of the power and beauty of the natural world. 


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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february 23 – “there are birds here” Jamaal May

Friday February 23     ” And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone”

We human beings who live and work in Detroit, 8 Mile down to the River,  live with many perceptions of Detroit.  Jamaal May’s “There are Birds Here”  was new to me before a friend sent it, suggesting if for the “Work Day/Hard Time” poetry list.  Every poem does best when read aloud, with pauses.   Today’s, perhaps, especially so by the 3rd or 4th reading.
Have a blest weekend.


john sj

Today’s Post    “There Are Birds Here

For Detroit

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.

Jamaal May, “There Are Birds Here” from The Big Book of Exit Strategies. Copyright © 2016 by Jamaal May. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.

Source: The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books, 2016)

p.s. a shout out to a small community of early twenties Jesuit Volunteers who are spending this year in their several  “placements”   learning Detroit from the inside of the city.   We talked last evening over dinner in the Jesuit house and I just now added them to the c. 2450 readers of the Work Day in a Hard Time poetry list.  Welcome.  jstsj

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