Monday, December 23, 2013

HAPPY HOLIDAYS



Best Wishes To Everyone
During the Holiday Season
And The Coming New Year



Thursday, November 28, 2013

THANKSGIVING


As the sun rose this Thanksgiving morning, gradually warming the fields and woodlands that surround our new home in South Carolina, I remembered a Denise Levertov song of praise that I recently discovered.  It's an excerpt from Levertov's long poem, Mass For The Day of St. Thomas Didymus, and it expresses much of what I feel on this day — a deep sense of gratitude for the daily unfolding of life; for simple, overlooked things like light and shadow; and for the mysterious forces that continue to give meaning to our lives through "flow and change, night and the pulse of day."  Perhaps you, too, will be inspired by the poem.

                                                            ii Gloria

by Denise Levertov


                                Praise the wet snow
                                         falling early.
                                Praise the shadow
                                         my neighbor's chimney casts on the tile roof
                                even this gray October day that should, they say,
                                have been golden.
                                                 Praise
                                the invisible sun burning beyond
                                     the white cold sky, giving us
                                light and the chimney's shadow.
                                Praise
                                god or the gods, the unknown,
                                that which imagined us, which stays
                                our hand,
                                our murderous hand,
                                                     and gives us
                                still,
                                in the shadow of death,
                                             our daily life,
                                             and the dream still
                                of goodwill, of peace on earth.
                                Praise
                                flow and change, night and 
                                the pulse of day.

                       HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO EVERYONE!

Monday, November 25, 2013

NEW WATERMARKS IN OTHER HEMISPHERES



ALL THE HEMISPHERES
 HAFIZ

                            Leave the familiar for a while.  Let your senses 
                            and bodies stretch out

                             like a welcomed season onto meadows and
                             shores and hills.

                            Open up to the roof.  Make a new watermark 
                            on your excitement and love.

                             Like a blooming night flower, bestow your vital
                             fragrance of happiness and giving upon our 
                             intimate assembly.

                             Change rooms in your mind for a day.  All the 
                             hemispheres in existence lie beside an equator 
                             in your soul.

                             Greet yourself in your thousand other forms as 
                             you mount the hidden tide and travel back home.

                             All the hemispheres in heaven are sitting around 
                             a campfire chatting, while

                             stitching themselves together into the great circle
                             inside of you.



Translation by Daniel Ladinsky, A Year With Hafiz: Daily Contemplations

Monday, November 18, 2013

TABLE ROCK AND PINNACLE LAKE


After seemingly endless months
of selling a house, buying a house, moving from one state to another, 
and trying to retain some measure of order in my life, 
I left the the household chaos early this morning and drove 
an hour northward to enjoy some of the myriad offerings of autumn
 in the Southern Appalachians.




My destination was Table Rock and Lake Pinnacle, 
a tranquil and pristine body of water that lies at the foot of the cliffs.
  When I arrived, the lake was just emerging from the morning fog. 
 In fifteen or twenty minutes, however, the skies began to clear . . . 




. . . and Table Rock greeted the morning sun with all of its glory.






Below the sheer cliffs of Table Rock, 
the trees seemed to create an impressionist painting of the fall colors . . .





Circling Lake Pinnacle, which was flat as a mirror,
 offered amazing views of the skies, mountains, and foliage
 being reflected in the still waters.








This was the finest day I've enjoyed in many months, 
and I'm truly excited about the infinite possibilities of exploring this part of my new world on foot.  There are trails in every direction and the scenery is nothing less than sensational!

These particular photos are best viewed at full screen (click on center of each photo).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

MOORLAND

Moors in North York Moors National Park, North Yorkshire, England

                                                     The Moor
                                                    R.S. Thomas

                                       It was like a church to me.
                                       I entered it on soft foot,
                                       Breath held like a cap in the hand.
                                       It was quiet.
                                       What God was there made himself felt,
                                       Not listened to , in clean colors
                                       That brought a moistening of the eye,
                                       In movement of the wind over the grass.

                                       There were no prayers said.  But stillness
                                       Of the heart's passions — that was praise
                                       Enough; and the mind's cession
                                       Of its kingdom.  I walked on.
                                       Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
                                       and broke on me generously as bread.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

MOVING ON, HOPEFULLY FORWARD

Blue Ridge Mountains Landscape
(Photo by Gafoto, Wikimedia Commons)

After more than eighteen years of living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Margaret and I finally closed on the sale of our house nine days ago and embarked on the next phase of our planned relocation — the search for a place in the Carolinas that will permit Margaret to keep her two horses.  We have stored our furniture in Maryland and taken a short-term rental apartment in Greenville, South Carolina, which will be our base as we explore the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains between Greenville and Asheville, North Carolina.  

Radical changes like this are always stressful because they increase exponentially the uncertainties that accompany "normal life," whatever that is.  I am hopeful, nonetheless, that the future will unfold in a way that will allow both Margaret and me to return soon to the activities that nurture our respective souls.  For the moment, however, we must spend most our days searching for something quite different from what I usually search for.

Unfortunately, the demands of the past few months have left me little time to read and reflect.  I have tried, however, to keep the ideals of two pieces of writing at the forefront of my crowded, overburdened mind.  The first piece of writing is Charles Bukowski's wise poem, The Laughing Heart, which I discovered by reading one of Ruth's elegant postings on Small.

                                               The Laughing Heart

                               your life is your life
                               don't let it be clubbed into dank submission.
                               be on the watch.
                               there are ways out.
                               there is light somewhere.
                               it may not be much light but
                               it beats the darkness.
                               be on the watch.
                               the gods will offer you chances.
                               know them.
                               take them.
                               you can't beat death but 
                               you can beat death in life, sometimes.
                               and the more often you learn to do it,
                               the more light there will be.
                               your life is your life.
                               know it while you have it.
                               you are marvelous.
                               the gods wait to delight 
                               in you.

The second piece comes from the Talmud and has its inspiration in the writings of the prophet Micah:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief.  Love mercy now. Walk humbly now.  Do justly now.  You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

So what's the relationship between this moving challenge and the quotes from Bukowski and The Talmud?  I suppose it has something to do with what Pascal once said:  "In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind."


Friday, May 31, 2013

SUMMER BREAK



Having posted nothing on this site for almost two months, I might as well come to terms with the fact that I need a little break from blogging.  As some of you know, issues relating the sale of my house and a subsequent relocation to some yet-to-be determined place in the southeast have been consuming a great deal of my time lately.  In addition, both my mind and my body are telling me that I need to spend less time with my computer and more time with the offerings of nature, especially during the summer months.  Accordingly, I will be posting nothing new on my blog until September.  With the fine weather, it's time to devote as much time as possible to walking, biking, and various other avenues of exploration and adventure.

I will return to active blogging in the fall, perhaps with a new format and approach. During the meantime, I will be dropping in on other blogs from time to time, but perhaps with less frequency.

I am blessed to have found so many good friends in the blogging community, and I wish all of you the best in the months ahead.  May your summer be filled with wonder and delight!

Best regards to all,

George

Friday, April 5, 2013

RAINING QUINCES



Several years ago, while searching the internet for information on long-distance walking, I discovered The Solitary Walker, a wonderful, multifaceted blog published by Robert Wilkinson.  As the title of the blog reveals, Robert is a passionate walker. He has walked thousands of miles in the U.K. and the rest of Europe.  According to my last count, he has completed five caminos on the network of pilgrim paths that lead from various parts of Europe to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  However, as any reader of The Solitary Walker will soon discover, walking is not Robert's only passion.  He is also a gifted poet, and he has just published his first collection of poems under the title of Raining Quinces.

The new collection contains over eighty poems which are organized under three sections: Camino (poems inspired by Robert's wanderings on the French and Spanish pilgrim routes to Santiago); Lightness of Being (light verse and humorous poems); and Blue Fruit (poems on love, life, nature, landscape, art, and family relationships).  Underpinning all of the poems, however, is a spiritual quest, an ongoing journey to pierce through the veneer of the material world and discover something of eternal value.  

In "Deep Blue," one the last poems in the book, the poet is engaged in an imaginary conversation with Deep Blue, the name of the chess-playing computer which beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a famous 1997 match.  When Deep Blue questions the value of poetry in modern times, the poet reminds it of how difficult it is to compose poems —

                                         In words direct as sunlight,
                                         Subtle as moonbeams
                                         And real as seeds and stones.

Readers of Robert's new poetry collection will discover that the poet's own standards have been clearly achieved with both grace and beauty.  These poems are "direct as sunlight, subtle as moonbeams, and real as seeds and stones."  In ways that are both unexpected and pleasurable, they open our eyes and hearts to the realities of life; they allow us to see our own questing hearts in the hearts of others; and they remind us that a fearless creative life is itself a path to understanding — perhaps even redemption. 

Raining Quinces can be purchased through both Amazon US and Amazon UK.  I heartily recommend it.  I also highly recommend Robert's excellent new online poetry magazine, The Passionate Transitory, which features poetry from contemporary poets throughout the world.  The magazine also features interviews with these poets.

Monday, March 25, 2013

THE SILENCE OF SNOW


The zen master and I opened the front door this morning and discovered that our little corner of world was under a pleasing blanket of fine white powder, notwithstanding the old adage that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  Actually, I'm quite fond of snow, provided it does its handiwork quickly and then moves on to other venues.  As the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy has observed, "snow provokes responses that reach back to childhood."  I also love the way that snow dissolves color and forces the eye to appreciate natural shapes and forms that might have otherwise been overlooked.  Finally, I love the silence that comes with snowfall — silence that stills the heart and allows it to listen to different things.

My small offering today is a few photos taken early this morning around my yard and neighborhood, plus a lovely poem by Miguel de Unamuno (translated by Robert Bly).  




                                        THE SNOWFALL IS SO SILENT
                                                  By Miguel de Unamuno
                                                  translated by Robert Bly

                                             The snowfall is so silent,
                                             so slow,
                                             bit by bit, with delicacy
                                             it settles down on the earth
                                             and covers over the fields.




                                             The silent snow comes down
                                             white and weightless;
                                             snowfall makes no noise,
                                             falls as forgetting falls,
                                             flake after flake.




                                             It covers the fields gently
                                             while frost attacks them
                                             with its sudden flashes of white;
                                             covers everything with its pure
                                             and silent covering;
                                             not one thing on the ground
                                             anywhere escapes it.




                                             And wherever it falls it stays,
                                             content and gay,
                                             for snow does not slip off as rain does
                                             but it stays and sinks in.




                                             The flakes are skyflowers,
                                             pale lilies from the clouds,
                                             that wither on earth. 
                                             They come down blossoming
                                             but then so quickly
                                             they are gone;
                                             they bloom only on the peak,
                                             above the mountains,
                                             and make the earth feel heavier
                                             when they die inside.




                                             Snow, delicate snow,
                                             that falls with such lightness
                                             on the head,
                                             on the feelings,
                                             come and cover over the sadness
                                             that lies always in my reason.








Sunday, March 24, 2013

THE CRITIC VERSUS THE MAN IN THE ARENA


It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt,
the 26th President of the United States
(photo above is of Roosevelt dressed in full expedition attire
as he led a 1909 expedition to Africa on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution) 


Monday, March 11, 2013

ON NOT PACKAGING THE SKY

Bamboo Grove, Hasedera Buddhist Temple, Kamakura, Japan
Photo by Urashimataro

Imagine a world in which you are liberated from all of the labels that have been imposed on you throughout your life.  Imagine a world in which that elusive experience we call "enlightenment," "awakening," or "higher consciousness" is not to be found in another time and place, but, instead, is to be found right under your nose — in this moment, this place, with all of your imperfections.  

These are two of the matters discussed by Alan Watts in his introduction to Zen: The Supreme Experience.  Having just reread that portion of the book, I am providing a few quotes that I find extremely liberating.  

I must begin with a word of explanation.  Some time ago I was in a radio station as a participant in a panel discussion on man and religion.  Before we went on air, the moderator asked all the participants around the table to introduce themselves.  I was sitting on his left, and the man on his right began: Rabbi So-and-so, Jewish; Reverend So-and-so, Protestant minister; Father So-and-so, Catholic priest; Doctor So-and-so, logical positivist and so on.  When it was my turn, I said, 'Alan Watts, no label." Immediately, there was an outcry: "You aren't being fair."
     I say 'No label' sincerely, because although I speak a great deal about Zen, I never refer to myself as a 'Zen-ist" or as a Buddhist because that seems to me like packaging the sky.
     There is an excellent reason for the absence of a definition of Zen.  All systems that have preconceived views of what the human being is and what the world ought to be categorize existence under labels.  People who have Jehovah-like ideas of an order that they wish to impose on reality also use labels.  But when one's concern is not to order the world around but to understand it, to experience it and to find out about it, you give up this superior attitude and become receptive.
     Then, instead of knowing all about it, you come to know it directly.  But this 'knowing' is difficult to talk about because it has to be felt.  It is the difference between eating dinner and eating the menu.
•  •  •  •  •


We may in the past have had marvelous spiritual experiences — almost everyone in this world is lucky enough to experience satori once in their life . . . Ever afterwords, you search for that experience again: 'I want it that way.'  You once had a wonderful girlfriend, and now you want another just like her.  That way of thinking blocks the possibility of meeting with life.  This is why meditation for Zen practitioners and Taoists means affirming that your everyday mind is the way — not the mind you ought to have or the mind you might have if you practiced acceptance or concentration.  We want you to look at it just the way it is right now — that's Buddha.  Just like that.
     Of course, many will say this is nonsense.  'The way I am now is degraded, ordinary, unevolved, not spiritual, decadent.'  Yet remember this phrase from the Zenrin poem:  'At midnight, the sun brightly shines.' All right, it is midnight now.  This, at this moment, is the awful dark thing we think we are.  Yet the poem also says, 'This is Buddha.' 
     A monk once asked a Zen master, 'What is Zen?'  The master replied, 'I don't feel like answering now.  Wait until there is nobody else around and I'll tell you.'  Some time later the monk returned to the master and said, 'There is nobody around now, Master.  Please tell me about Zen.' The master took him into the garden and said, 'What a long bamboo this is!  What a short bamboo that is!'
     So you may be a long bamboo, you may be a short bamboo.  You may be a giraffe with a long neck or a giraffe with a short neck.. What you are now is the very point.  There is no goal because all goals are in the future. There is only the question of what is.  Look and see; see how, of its own accord, it comes to your eye. 
Alan Watts, No Label 
                      
                         

Sunday, February 24, 2013

THE BEGINNING, THE MIDDLE, AND THE END



Looking at my last post, Things That Slip Away in Time, I can see that I'm rather preoccupied these days with the subject of time — its nature, how it defines us at various stages of life, how the past shapes the future, how the past appears from the vantage point of the present.  Perhaps these are just idle thoughts on an idle Sunday afternoon, but they are the kind of thoughts that send me to the poetry of Billy Collins, for whom time seems to be a constant theme.

In particular, I have just reread the fine poem, Aristotle.  According to Collins, the inspiration for this poem arose upon reading Aristotle's Poetics, wherein the philosopher first articulated a principle that is now taken from granted by virtually everyone, specifically, that every literary work has three parts:  a beginning, a middle, and an ending.  As I read the poem, however, Collins is speaking not only of literary works, but also of life itself.  Indeed, what is life if not a beginning, where "almost anything can happen," followed by a middle, where "nothing is simple anymore," followed by an end, "where everything comes down to the destination we cannot help imagining . . . "? 


                                                    Aristotle


                                               by Billy Collins


                    This is the beginning.
                    Almost anything can happen.
                    This is where you find
                    the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
                    the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
                    Think of an egg, the letter A,
                    a woman ironing on a bare stage
                    as the heavy curtain rises.
                    This is the very beginning.
                    The first-person narrator introduces himself,
                    tells us about his lineage.
                    The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
                    Here the climbers are studying a map
                    or pulling on their long woolen socks.
                    This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
                    The profile of an animal is being smeared
                    on the wall of a cave,
                    and you have not yet learned to crawl.
                    This is the opening, the gambit,
                    a pawn moving forward an inch.
                    This is your first night with her,
                    your first night without her.
                    This is the first part
                    where the wheels begin to turn,
                    where the elevator begins its ascent,
                    before the doors lurch apart.

                    This is the middle.
                    Things have had time to get complicated,
                    messy, really.  Nothing is simple anymore.
                    Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
                    teeming with people at cross-purposes—
                    a million schemes, a million wild looks.
                    Disappointment unshoulders its knapsack
                    here and pitches his ragged tent.
                    This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
                    where the action suddenly reverses
                    or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
                    Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
                    to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
                    Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
                    Here the aria rises to a pitch,
                    a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
                    And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
                    halfway up the mountain.
                    This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
                    This is the thick of things.
                    So much is crowded into the middle—
                    the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
                    Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
                    lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
                    too much to name, too much to think about.

                    And this is the end,
                    the car running out of road,
                    the river losing its name in an ocean,
                    the long nose of the photographed horse
                    touching the white electronic line.
                    This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
                    the empty wheelchair,
                    and pigeons floating down in the evening.
                    Here the stage is littered with bodies,
                    the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
                    and the climbers are in their graves.
                    It is me hitting the period
                    and you closing the book.
                    It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
                    and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
                    This is the final bit
                    thinning away to nothing.
                    This is the end, according to Aristotle,
                    what we have all been waiting for,
                    what everything comes down to,
                    the destination we cannot help imagining,
                    a streak of light in the sky,
                    a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.


"Aristotle" from Picnic, Lightning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998), by Billy Collins.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

THINGS THAT SLIP AWAY IN TIME


It's been said that the two keys to happiness are a good appetite and a bad memory.  I have never failed to meet the first requirement, and as I proceed into my seventies, I am assured that nature itself will take care of the second.  Indeed, as I read the following poem by Billy Collins last night, I felt myself smiling in recognition of the man who is stirred emotionally by a moon that seems to have drifted out of a love poem that he once knew by heart.


                                        Forgetfulness

                 The name of the author is the first to go

                 followed obediently by the title, the plot,
                 the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
                 which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of.

                 It is as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

                 decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
                 to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

                 Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

                 and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
                 and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

                 something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

                 the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

                 Whatever it is you are struggling to remember

                 it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
                 not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

                 It has floated away down the dark mythological river

                 whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
                 well on your way to oblivion where you will join those
                 who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

                 No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

                 to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
                 No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
                 out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.


There is no need to fret, of course; indeed, for most of us, there are many things that are perhaps best forgotten.  As for the other things, it's well to remember (if we can) what Nietzsche said:  "The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time."

Monday, February 11, 2013

THE CLEAR AND PRESENT EYE


We understand the specific attraction of Zen Buddhism when we realize the extent to which the contemporary West is animated by "prophetic faith," the sense of the holiness of the ought, the pull of the way things could be and should be but as yet are not.  Such faith has obvious virtues, but unless it is balanced by a companion sense of the holiness of the is, it becomes top-heavy.  If one's eyes are always on tomorrows, todays slip by unperceived.  To a West which in its concern to refashion heaven and earth is in danger of letting the presentness of life—the only life we really have—slip through its fingers, Zen comes as a reminder that if we do not learn to perceive the mystery and beauty of our present life, our present hour, we shall not perceive the worth of any life, of any hour.

From Huston Smith's "Foreword" to
The Three Pillars of Zen:
Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment
by Philip Kapleau




One day a man of the people said to Zen Master Ikkyu: "Master, will
you please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?"
 Ikkyu immediately took his brush and wrote the word "Attention."
"Is that all?" asked the man.  "Will you not add something more?"
Ikkyu then wrote twice running: "Attention.  Attention."
"Well," remarked the man rather irritably, "I really don't see much depth or subtlety in what you have just written."
Then Ikkyu wrote the same word three times running: "Attention.  Attention. Attention."
Half angered, the man demanded: "What does that word 'Attention" mean anyway?"
And Ikkyu answered gently: "Attention means attention."

Anecdote shared by
Philip Kapleau in
The Three Pillars of Zen 



Saturday, February 9, 2013

THE HUMMINGBIRD AND THE HONEY

Photo by Richard Hoode (Wikimedia Commons)

Stand Still Like The Hummingbird, a collection of stories and essays by Henry Miller, remains one of the most cherished books in my library.  I don't know how long I have had my copy, which was published more than fifty years ago, but I have dipped into its profound wisdom with regularity for most of my adult life.  Some of that wisdom was quoted in Aways Merry and Bright, which I posted in 2010.  Here are some other pearls that I believe are worthy of reflection:

On happiness —
Man craves happiness here on earth, not fulfillment, not emancipation. Are they utterly deluded, then, in seeking happiness?  No, happiness is desirable, but it is a by-product, the result of a way of life, not a goal which is forever beyond one's grasp.  Happiness is achieved en route . . . To make happiness a goal is to kill it in advance.

On real power —
If there is one power which man indubitably possesses—have we not had proof of it again and again?—it is the power to alter one's way of life.  It is perhaps man's only power.

 On struggle and surrender —
Struggle has its importance, but we tend to overrate it.  Harmony, serenity, [and] bliss do not come from struggle but from surrender.

On questing —
The long voyage is not an escape but a quest.  The man is seeking for a way to be of service to the world.  Toward the end he realizes what his mission in life is—"it is to be a bridge of goodwill."  Un homme de bonne volonté

On Taoism —
One takes up the path in order to become the path. 

On the teachings of Buddha, Lao-tzu, and Jesus —
What they tried to convey to us, these luminaries, was that there is no need for all these laws of ours, these codes and conventions, these books of learning, these armies and navies, these rockets and spaceships, these thousand and one impedimenta which weigh us down, keep us apart, and bring us sickness and death.  We need only to behave as brothers and sisters, follow our hearts not our minds, play not work, create and not add invention upon invention.  Though we realize it not, they demolished the props which sustain our world of make-believe . . .
They changed worlds, yes.  They traveled far.  But standing still.  Let us not forget that the road inward toward the source stretches as far and as deep as the road outward.

On standing still like the hummingbird, instead of "getting somewhere" —
When you find you can go neither backward nor forward . . . when you are convinced that all the exits are blocked, either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like the hummingbird.  The miracle is that the honey is always there, right under your nose, only you were too busy searching elsewhere to realize it.  The worst is not death, but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous.  


Henry Miller
(1891-1980)

Have a nice weekend, everyone, 
and make sure to find some honey wherever you are.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"ONE TODAY" — THE 2013 INAUGURAL POEM

    
Inaugural Parade, 2013

The American poet Richard Blanco was selected by the White House to create a special poem to commemorate the Second Inauguration of President Obama. Some of you may have heard the poem recited by Blanco during the inaugural ceremony on January 21st.  In the event you missed it, you can read it below.

Any poem addressed to the entire nation will undoubtedly find its share of criticism, particularly from those who do not share the President's vision for the country. From my perspective, however, "One Today" succeeds because it captures not only the spirit and diversity of our nation, but also the President's conviction that what unites people is greater than what divides them.  "All of us," Blanco proclaims, are "as vital as the one light we move through."


                                                     One Today

                                                 by Richard Blanco


                      One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
                      peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
                      of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
                      across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
                      One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
                      told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

                      My face, your face, millions of faces in the morning's mirrors,
                      each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
                      pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
                      fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
                      begging our praise.  Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
                      bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
                      on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
                      to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
                      for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

                      All of us as vital as the one light we move through, 
                      the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
                      equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
                      the "I have a dream" we all keep dreaming,
                      or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
                      the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
                      today, and forever.  Many prayers, but one light
                      breathing color into stained glass windows,
                      life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
                      onto the steps of our museums and park benches
                      as mothers watch children slide into the day.

                      One ground.  Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
                      of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
                      and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
                      in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
                      digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands 
                      as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
                      so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

                      The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
                      mingled by one wind—our breath.  Breathe.  Hear it
                      through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
                      buses launching down avenues, the symphony 
                      of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
                      the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

                      Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
                      or whispers across cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open
                      for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
                      buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos dias
                      in the language my mother taught me—in every language
                      spoken into one wind carrying our lives
                      without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

                      One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
                      their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
                      their way to the sea.  Thank the work of our hands:
                      weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
                      for the boss on time, stitching another wound
                      or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
                      or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
                      jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

                      One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
                      tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
                      of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
                      that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
                      who knew how to give, of forgiving a father
                      who couldn't give what you wanted.

                      We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
                      of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
                      always under one sky, our sky.  And always one moon
                      like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
                      and every window, of one country—all of us—
                      facing the stars
                      hope—a new constellation
                      waiting for us to map it,
                      waiting for us to name it—together.


To hear and see Richard Blanco's recitation of the inaugural poem, click here. Publications of Richard Blanco's poetry include City of a Hundred Fires (University of Pittsburg Press, 1998), by Richard Blanco; Directions to the Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press, 2005), by Richard Blanco; and Looking for the Gulf Motel (University of Pittsburg Press, 2012), by Richard Blanco.