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) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26196185-the-big-book-of-exit-strategies

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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march 24 — “The Guest House” – Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (جلال‌الدین محمد رومی‎)

Wednesday  February 21

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

One of my soul friends of many years emailed Rumi’s “Guest House” yesterday.   When readers send poems, they create a place of stillness in me and sometimes change my plans for a given day’s post.  So it is this morning.

Rumi’s poem creates a place alive with realism and laughter, grief and joy.   Best to read this out loud with pauses.

Have a blessed midweek.


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.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī  (جلال‌الدین محمد رومی‎)

Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic 1207-1273.

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feb 19 – “When you listen, you reach . . . “

last posted on February 29, 2016
Monday,  February 19, 2018

“It can be your brain, your
fingers, your toes,
You can listen anywhere”

Poems appear sometimes like this — a friend sends me a poem;  it sits on the edge of awareness for 2 months;  I finally notice the poem, read it, am moved by it, look around internet places to learn a little about the poet, and write a post to contextualize it.   Paying attention to one poem this time introduced me to a poetry list titled “Poetry — for better or worse:  My favorite poems, one by one”  at a cheeky website  http://tiltingourheadsup.blogspot.com.  So far I have not found the editor’s name.

For a mid-day Monday in February, how do you like this poem, written by a fifth grader?   This young poet reminds me to thank February, 2018  for its blessings.

This past weekend, too, 4 junior faculty members,  all women who live & work within STEM disciplines (biology, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering,  physicians assistant) drove  down I-75 to Xavier Univeristy for this year’s Faculty Conversations Weekend, conversations about gender and justice.  Talking with them the past few days before they headed south fills me with joy and respect.

Best to read the poem out loud, w. pauses.

Have a blest Monday.

john sj


Today’s Post:  “Waiting in Line”:
[Curator’s note: Nick Penna was in fifth grade when he wrote this poem.]

When you listen you reach
into dark corners and
pull out your wonders.
When you listen your
ideas come in and out
like they were waiting in line.

Your ears don’t always listen.
It can be your brain, your
fingers, your toes.
You can listen anywhere.
Your mind might not want to go.
If you can listen you can find
answers to questions you didn’t know.
If you have listened, truly
listened, you don’t find your
self alone.

Waiting in Line, Nick Penna from Poetic Medicine, the Healing Art of Poem Making”, John Fox @ Jeremy P Tarcher,  Putnam 1997
Posted in “A Year of Being Here”  Phyllis Cole-Dai  January 29, 2013

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feb 14 – a mom-daughter love on Valentine’s Day

Wednesday, February 14

Once again, a friend sent me a poem.  The poet, Linda Paston, writes of delicate surprises that run deeper than first notice suggests.    Her sensual remembering of an eight year old daughter  when she dares to ride too fast for Mom, opening Mom to wonder, can open us readers also, into one of the many valences of love between two human beings.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.   Have a blest day.

john sj

Today’ Post  Linda Paston   (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Pastan)

To A Daughter Leaving Home –

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,

I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

Linda Pastan


Footnote:   Today is also Ash Wednesday in the Christian tradition, the beginning of Lent.  “Lent” suggests that people living in our northern climate chose this Anglo-Saxon word.  “Lent” means “Spring” in Anglo-Saxon.  In the climate where our city and university live, “Lent” can remind me that growing things — shrubs, trees, grass can look like they are dead when the 40 days begin.   It takes a long time, with patient attention, until they prove to us that they’ve been alive after all.   Some people choose a twig on a branch somewhere along their ordinary path, to pause very near the twig, standing vigil week after week, letting the twig surprise them in slow motion.

p.s. Easter this year is April 1,  April Fool’s Day.   Enjoy these weeks.

a meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

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Feb 12 – Connie de Biase died on February 10, one year ago

Monday, February 12  –  Connie de Biase died February 10, 2017
“your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.”    Yahuda Halevi

One of many people who miss Connie de Biase (died February 10, 2017) wrote me yesterday to say her loss with 3 short sentences and one thousand year poem.  I am in her debt for finding words to say the beauty of Connie’s grace and wisdom and such supple welcome to so many women and men over decades of hospitality and grace.

“One year ago today you left us, Connie. The suddenness of it left me heartbroken, questioning so much. I miss you my friend and not a day goes by that I do not think of you!  Rest in peace dear one.”

Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

~ Yehuda HaLevi

p.s. From today’s editor:

Hi John,

I wanted to share the poem with you that I posted in memory of Connie yesterday, on her anniversary of new life. I think it touches on the particular agony of her loss. I have thought of and think of you often in this last year. I hope you feel her all around you!

Yesterday as I sat in my prayer space, I got up for some water to feed the Gerbera Daisies I have been nurturing in the hopes they will bloom again in summer. I have attached the picture of what took my breath away as I glanced at it. Gerberas in winter.  A Connie move if ever there was one!
Be well old friend!

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February 8 a Thursday post – e. e. cummings love poem

February 8, 2018 –   “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.“

e e cummings would have objected to my world view on just about every count, as I would his.  Which demonstrates to me that great poetry connects people, even across chasms, through its sheer ability to bring some place of the human condition to life.  Here’s my all-time favorite love poem, last posted on this list Friday September 5, 2015.   I don’t know why e e caught my attention tonight;  perhaps because this past week the world has worn on me and because these past two days I’ve been loving time to sleep in and walk slowly,   It doesn’t matter.  “Somewhere” is always worth reading.

Try it out loud and leave some time when you’ve finished  to pause and breathe.

Have a good end to the work week.

john sj

p.s. Am I posting the day after Wednesday to make up for missing a post for Monday?  Or just because I came across this amazing poem while browsing in the Poetry Archive Blog last night?   Yes.

(All poem posts are available at:  http://sites.udmercy.edu/mission-and-identity/)


Today’s Post:  e e cummings  –  “Somewhere”

Somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

e e cummings

e e cummings 1953


p.s.       A reader of the ee love poem wrote this story and sent it to the Work Day/Hard Times list.

Sunday, long line at CVS and a woman got in line behind me. Her clothes were shabby; she had two black eyes and a banged up face. She looked angry – perhaps in pain. I don’t know if she fell off her bike or her paramour had beat her up. I offered her my place in line –said I forgot something that I wanted elsewhere in the store.  She responded rather sharply. “You don’t need to do nuthin for me!”  Me: “OK, I’ll leave the cart here, but if you feel like you want to go around it, no problem.”  I walked to the freezer to get my Skinny Cow ice cream bars…brought them back, the line hadn’t moved, and she was still there.  She looked at the box and mumbled, “What are those?” and I told her how chocolaty and sweet they were for 100 calories but it didn’t matter because I’d probably consume 300 of the calories before day’s end. And she snickered a little and started talking – girl talk – and we chatted about our useless coupons, and where the best deals are on makeup, and how much our pills cost us, and rolled our eyes and looked at each other when a couple people had only a 4 cent co-pay and we knew ours were going to be higher.  We parted smiling like long-time buddies.

My point is that the poem you posted reminded me of the constant presence of the Holy Spirit always in us, silently walking in us, bringing us to love and life…In a visible way the Holy Spirit filled that bedraggled lady and brought her to delight in life if only for a few  minutes with “girl talk.”  OK, we were chatty, unlike the poem’s message, but the unspoken shouted “You are not alone. You have value. You have dignity. You are loved.” My prayer is that the Spirit continues to manifest itself within her.

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feb 7 – two poets — one Muslim, one Chaldean Catholic

Wednesday, February 7  –

Dunya Mikhail
“Yesterday, I lost a country”

Warsan Shire
“dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.”

Harsh news these past days brought to mind how much of my city I share with a large Muslim community and a large Chaldean community.  I’ve posted poems from both of these places in my home culture, including from these two poets.  One, Dunya Mikhail, I posted last December; the other, Warsan Shire, I posted the morning after the November 2016 election in the U.S.

Two poems breaks my ordinary rule for these posts.  You may want to spread their wisdom across this first week of February, the eve of Mardi Gras, the dawn of Lent.   Best to read each out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest day.


john sj


Today’s post # 1:  “I Was in a Hurry”  –    Dunya Mikhail

Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn’t notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.

Please, if anyone passes by
and stumbles across it,
perhaps in a suitcase
open to the sky,
or engraved on a rock
like a gaping wound,
or wrapped
in the blankets of emigrants,
or canceled
like a losing lottery ticket,
or helplessly forgotten
in Purgatory,
or rushing forward without a goal
like the questions of children,
or rising with the smoke of war,
or rolling in a helmet on the sand,
or stolen in Ali Baba’s jar,
or disguised in the uniform of a policeman
who stirred up the prisoners
and fled,
or squatting in the mind of a woman
who tries to smile,
or scattered like the dreams
of new immigrants in America.

If anyone stumbles across it,
return it to me, please.
Please return it, sir.
Please return it, madam.
It is my country…
I was in a hurry
when I lost it yesterday.

“I Was in a Hurry” by Dunya Mikhail, translated by Elizabeth Winslow, from The War Works Hard

1965 – Baghdad, Iraq – lives in metro Detroit


Today’s post # 2   “what they did yesterday afternoon”

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night

i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

1988 – Born in Kenya to Somali parents

Warsan Shire

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feb 2 -a little girl tugs at a tabe cloth

Feb 2 — “A Little Girl Tugs At The Tablecloth”

Back from Santa Clara  (Advisory Board meeting)   here’s a long standing favorite poem for this Friday morning.

have a blest weekend,



{from February 2016)     “. . . and in this world not everything’s been examined”

A friend of many years emailed me January 13, the day after Gerry Stockhausen died;  hers was one of so many that I only found it yesterday as I open one beautiful note after another.


“I took a walk this evening, by the river, close to sunset–and tried to think of what I wanted to say to you by way of comfort on the death of your friend Gerry.  Slowly, I pieced this together, from your reference to him as a “soul mate,” and from your post, a few days ago, about a sermon he gave that inspired you.   Souls…inspirations…We don’t lose our friends when they die, because we inspire them, breathe them in–and they become part of us, their souls become part of ours.”

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

So, this Friday morning, weeks after I began to learn my way into the absence of a soul friend, I read one of the two poems the way I encourage readers of the Work Day list to  read;  out loud, with pauses.  I bet you will love it as my friend who sent it does and as I, now this Friday morning in late February, do too.

Have a blessed weekend.

john sj


Today’s Post “A Little Girl Tugs At The Tablecloth”

Wislawa Szymborska

 She’s been in this world for over a year,

and in this world not everything’s been examined
and taken in hand.

The subject of today’s investigation
is things that don’t move themselves.

They need to be helped along,

shoved, shifted,
taken from their pace and relocated.

They don’t all want to go, e,g., the bookshelf,
the cupboard, the unyielding walls, the table.

But the tablecloth on the stubborn table
– when well-seized by its hems –
manifests a willingness to travel.

And the glasses, plates,
creamer, spoons, bowl,
are fairly shaking with desire.

It’s fascinating,
what form of motion will they take,
once they’re trembling on the brink:
will they roam across the ceiling?
fly around the lamp?
hop onto the windowsill and from there to a tree?

Mr. Newton still has no say in this.
Let him look down from the heavens and wave his hands.

This experiment must be completed.
And it will.

(Translation: Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak)

Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska [1][2] [viˈswava ʂɨmˈbɔrska] (2 July 1923 – 1 February 2012)
Nobel Prize in Literature 1996


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Tagore ”Only as a Singer”

Monday,  January 29

“I know Thou takest pleasure in my singing . . . “   Tagore Gitanjali # 2

This Monday we begin the last week of this year’s January,  an ordinary work week perhaps, the out of the ordinary tempo that begins around Christmas and continues through the turning of the year has come and gone.   In the Catholic tradition of liturgy, Advent, Christmas and Epiphany give way to what is called “Ordinary Time.”    Lives settle in to more ordinary work and ordinary life.   Even this morning’s light snow feels soothing and undramatic (at least to snow-lovers like me).

Our lives, however, remain alive with commitments and courage, anxiety and relief;  ordinary lives are beautiful and run deep.  Maybe that’s why one of Rabindranath Tagore’s most surprising poems asked for attention today,  Gitanjali # 2, an invitation to set aside dis-affection and shyness, to risk the singing that makes you beautiful.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest week,

john sj

Today’s post:  Rabindranath Tagore

When Thou commandest me to sing
it seems that my heart would break with pride
and I look to Thy face
and tears come to my eyes.

All that is harsh and dissonant in my life
melts into one sweet harmony
and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird
on its flight across the sea.

I know Thou takest pleasure in my singing
I know that only as a singer I come before Thy presence
I touch by the edge of the far spreading wing of my song
Thy feet which I could never aspire to reach.

Drunk with the joy of singing
I forget myself
and call Thee friend
who art my lord.

Tagore  Gitanjali  # 2

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jan 24 Joy Harjo blessing her 4th grand child near Manhattan’s tall buildings

Wednesday January 24

“I hear from my Inuit and Yupik relatives up north that
everything has changed.  It’s so hot; there is not enough
Animals are confused. Ice is melting.”

Poets who have come to inhabit my imagination since I began the Work Day/Hard Time poetry list in fall of 2013 .  .  .  , each carries her/his own voice, each voice so resonant and particular that on these Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays when I walk around among them all, one of them waits to surprise me.  Today is no exception to that rule.  Since we met in 1968 at The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, Joy Harjo has never stopped surprising me.  This morning, with my ear tuned to so much grief and fearsome angers in the world, “Talking with the Sun” speaks of realism and deep down hope not unlike a favorite passage from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings;  it speaks of improbable mirth in a hard time.  Treat it as a second poem perhaps, or as opening access to Today’s Post.

In the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow;

though as he looked more intently

he perceived that under all there was a great joy:

a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing

were it to gush forth.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest weekend.

john sj

Today’ Post   Joy Harjo  “Talking with the Sun”

I believe in the sun.
In the tangle of human failures of fear, greed, and
forgetfulness, the sun gives me clarity.
When explorers first encountered my people, they called us
heathens, sun worshippers.
They didn’t understand that the sun is a relative, and
illuminates our path on this earth.

After dancing all night in a circle we realize that we are a
part of a larger sense of stars and planets dancing with us
When the sun rises at the apex of the ceremony, we are
There is no mistaking this connection, though Walmart
might be just down the road.
Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the
earth and sun; we exist together in a sacred field of

Our earth is shifting.  We can all see it.
I hear from my Inuit and Yupik relatives up north that
everything has changed.  It’s so hot; there is not enough
Animals are confused. Ice is melting.

The quantum physicists have it right; they are beginning to
think like Indians: everything is connected dynamically
at an intimate level.
When you remember this, then the current wobble of the
earth makes sense.  How much more oil can be drained,
Without replacement; without reciprocity?

I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn
to find the sun.
It was the fourth morning since the birth of my fourth
This was the morning I was to present her to the sun, as a
relative, as one of us.  It was still dark, overcast as I walked
through Times Square.
I stood beneath a twenty-first century totem pole of symbols
of multinational corporations, made of flash and neon.

The sun rose up over the city but I couldn’t see it amidst the
Though I was not at home, bundling up the baby to carry
her outside,
I carried this newborn girl within the cradleboard of my
I held her up and presented her to the sun, so she would be
recognized as a relative,
So that she won’t forget this connection, this promise,
So that we all remember, the sacredness of life.

Joy Harjo

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

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