“Every Day,” by Naomi Shihab Nye
#naomi shihab nye
My hundred year old next door neighbor told me:
Every day is a good day if you have it.
I had to think about that a minute.
She said, Every day is a present
someone left at your birthday place at the table.
Trust me! It may not feel like that
but it’s true. When you’re my age
you’ll know. Twelve is a treasure.
And it’s up to you
to unwrap the package gently,
lift out the gleaming hours
wrapped in tissue,
don’t miss the bottom of the box.
“Daily”, Naomi Shihab Nye
#naomi shihab nye
These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips
These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares
These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl
This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out
This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky
This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it
The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.
"I can’t live here.
In my body, I mean.
I can’t live in my body all the time.
It feels too much.
So if I ever feel far away,
Know I am not gone.
I am just underneath my grief;
Adjusting the dial on my radio face,
So I can take this life with all of its love
and all of its loss"
To the Woman (We Think You’re a Teacher) with the Books on the 2 Train
#life of pi
On the platform for the 2 train
you stand with a book in your hand
the pages open
Which is how you enter the train
Sometimes you smile, or frown
Once you even cried
on the train
when you were reading Night
and a man sitting across the aisle
said he cried too, when he read that book
and we thought,
we want to read that book
so we did
And then you were reading all those
by Walter Dean Myers
so we read those too
speeding along on the 2 train
one time you saw us reading Slam
and you said
I love that book
and do you think Slam is going to make it in high
We do, we think he’s going to make it
Then you were reading some really hard stuff
Epistemology of the Closet, Postmodern Narrative
and we tried those, but we think you have to have read
the books those authors have read, if you want to read
Our favorite is when you are reading poetry
and you lean back against the seat
and keep reading the same page
again and again
we do that now and it’s really nice
Last week you were reading The Life of Pi
and we rushed out to buy it
So we could be in the lifeboat
adrift in the blue, blue sea
with the boy, the Bengal Tiger, and you
If we don’t see you next year
on the train
Maybe sometime we’ll bump into each other on the
You’ll know us because
we’ll have books in our hands
"Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous. I want to be a writer who reminds others that these moments exist; I want to prove that there is infinite space, infinite meaning, infinite dimension. But I am not always in what I call a state of grace. I have days of illuminations and fevers. I have days when the music in my head stops. Then I mend socks, prune trees, can fruits, polish furniture. But while I am doing this I feel I am not living."
Anaïs Nin from The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934
"I sometimes paint this world prettier than it is.
Have you ever had the feeling you owe somebody somewhere
a really good reason to live?
To grow old?
To be ninety-eight-and-a-half
with a laugh like broken glass
so whenever folks walk barefoot
they’ll get hidden pieces embedded in their souls?"
“How You Know,” Joe Mills
How do you know if it’s love? she asks,
and I think if you have to ask, it’s not,
but I know this won’t help. I want to say
you’re too young to worry about it,
as if she has questions about Medicare
or social security, but this won’t help either.
“You’ll just know” is a lie, and one truth,
“when you still want to be with them
the next morning” would involve too
many follow-up questions. The difficulty
with love, I want to say, is sometimes
you only know afterward that it’s arrived
or left. Love is the elephant and we
are the blind mice unable to understand
the whole. I want to say love is this
desire to help even when I know I can’t,
just as I couldn’t explain electricity, stars,
the color of the sky, baldness, tomatoes,
fingernails, coconuts, or the other things
she has asked about over the years, all
those phenomena whose daily existence
seems miraculous. Instead I shake my head.
I don’t know even know how to match my socks.
Go ask your mother. She laughs and says,
I did. Mom told me to come and ask you.
"Nothing was ever in tune. People just blindly grabbed at whatever there was: communism, health foods, zen, surfing, ballet, hypnotism, group encounters, orgies, biking, herbs, Catholicism, weight-lifting, travel, withdrawal, vegetarianism, India, painting, writing, sculpting, composing, conducting, backpacking, yoga, copulating, gambling, drinking, hanging around, frozen yogurt, Beethoven, Back, Buddha, Christ, TM, H, carrot juice, suicide, handmade suits, jet travel, New York City, and then it all evaporated and fell apart. People had to find things to do while waiting to die. I guess it was nice to have a choice."
Charles Bukowski, Women
“On Turning Ten,” Billy Collins
The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light—
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
“Waiting and Finding,” Jack Gilbert
While he was in kindergarten, everybody wanted to play
the tomtoms when it came time for that. You had to
run in order to get there first, and he would not.
So he always had a triangle. He does not remember
how they played the tomtoms, but he sees clearly
their Chinese look. Red with dragons front and back
and gold studs around that held the drumhead tight.
If you had a triangle, you didn’t really make music.
You mostly waited while the tambourines and tomtoms
went on a long time. Until there was a signal for all
triangle people to hit them the right way. Usually once.
Then it was tomtoms and waiting some more. But what
he remembers is the sound of the triangle. A perfect,
shimmering sound that has lasted all his long life.
Fading out and coming again after a while. Getting lost
and the waiting for it to come again. Waiting meaning
without things. Meaning love sometimes dying out,
sometimes being taken away. Meaning that often he lives
silent in the middle of the world’s music. Waiting
for the best to come again. Beginning to hear the silence
as he waits. Beginning to like the silence maybe too much.
“Relax,” Ellen Bass
Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked— will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours, for a month.
Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up— drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice— one white, one black— scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
I Like You When You Are Quiet
I like you when you are quiet because it is as though you are absent,
and you hear me from far away, and my voice does not touch you.
It looks as though your eyes had flown away
and it looks as if a kiss had sealed your mouth.
Like all things are full of my soul
You emerge from the things, full of my soul.
Dream butterfly, you look like my soul,
and you look like a melancoly word.
I like you when you are quiet and it is as though you are distant.
It is as though you are complaining, butterfly in lullaby.
And you hear me from far away, and my voice does not reach you:
let me fall quiet with your own silence.
Let me also speak to you with your silence
Clear like a lamp, simple like a ring.
You are like the night, quiet and constellated.
Your silence is of a star, so far away and solitary.
I like you when you are quiet because it is as though you are absent.
Distant and painful as if you had died.
A word then, a smile is enough.
And I am happy, happy that it is not true.
by Pablo Neruda
- translated from original Spanish-