Today is World Poetry Day, first declared in 1999 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. To celebrate, I’m posting four of my favorite poems. “Enough Words?” (Rumi) is my absolute favorite.
How does a part of the world leave the world?
How can wetness leave water?
Don’t try to put out a fire
by throwing on more fire!
Don’t wash a wound with blood!
No matter how fast you run,
your shadow more than keeps up.
Sometimes, it’s in front!
Only full, overhead sun
diminishes your shadow.
But that shadow has been serving you!
What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.
I can explain this, but it would break
the glass cover on your heart,
and there’s no fixing that.
You must have shadow and light source both.
Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.
When from that tree, feathers and wings sprout
on you, be quieter than a dove.
Don’t open your mouth for even a cooooooo.
When a frog slips into the water, the snake
cannot get it. Then the frog climbs back out
and croaks, and the snake moves towards him again.
Even if the frog learned to hiss, still the snake
would hear through the hiss the information
he needed, the frog voice underneath.
But if the frog could be completely silent,
then the snake would go back to sleeping,
and the frog could reach the barley.
The soul lives there in the silent breath.
And that grain of barley is such that,
when you put it in the ground,
Are these enough words,
or shall I squeeze more juice from this?
Who am I, my friend?
By Sharon Olds
I think of it with wonder now,
the glass of mucus that stood on the table
next to my father all weekend. The cancer
is growing fast in his throat now,
and as it grows it sends out pus like the
sun sending out flares, those pouring
tongues. So my father has to gargle, hack,
spit a mouth full of thick stuff
into the glass every ten minutes or so,
scraping the rim up his lower lip to
get the last bit off his skin, then he
sets the glass down on the table and it
sits there, like a glass of beer foam,
shiny and faintly golden, he gurlges and
coughs and reaches for it again and
gets the heavy sputum out,
full of bubbles and moving around like yeast–
he is like some god producing food from his own mouth.
He himself can eat nothing anymore,
just a swallow of milk sometimes,
cut with water, and even then it
can’t always get past the tumor,
and the next time the saliva comes up it’s
chalkish and ropey, he has to roll it in his
throat to form it and get it up and dis-
gorge the elliptical globule into the cup–
and the wonder to me is that it did not disgust me,
that glass of phlegm that stood there all day and
filled slowly with the compound globes and I’d
empty it and it would fill again and
shimmer there on the table until the
room seemed to turn around it
in an orderly way, a model of the solar system
turning around the gold sun,
my father the dark earth that used to
lie at the center of the universe
now turning with the rest of us
around the bright glass of spit
on the table, these last mouthfuls.
Keeping Things Whole
by Mark Strand
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
This is a Photograph of Me
by Margaret Atwood
It was taken some time ago
At first it seems to be
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;
then, as you scan
it, you can see something in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.
In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.
(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.
I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.
It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or how small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion.
but if you look long enough
you will see me.)