desired things


Be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by your serenity, make others more tranquil.  Serenity is contagious. ~Satchidananda

This is a simple little poem for sharing.  The Latin word in its title translated means desired things.  It starts out a little rough, gets heavy with didactic advice about midway through, but trust me.  It’s a little bit of lovely in the end.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.


After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories [and poetry] are the thing we need most in the world. ~ Philip Pullman


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i will go singing

Charles Wright was recently named US Poet Laureate, and in a 1989 interview published in The Paris Review, he addressed the contemplative nature of his poetry and offered up some eloquent prayers for the power of language:

[T]he true purpose of poetry [is] a contemplation of the divine . . . .

What we have, and all we will have, is here in the earthly paradise. How to wring music from it, how to squeeze the light out of it, is, as it has always been, the only true question . . . .

Language is the element of definition, the defining and descriptive incantation. It puts the coin between our teeth. It whistles the boat up. It shows us the city of light across the water. Without language there is no poetry, without poetry there’s just talk. Talk is cheap and proves nothing. Poetry is dear and difficult to come by. But it poles us across the river and puts a music in our ears. It moves us to contemplation. And what we contemplate, what we sing our hymns to and offer our prayers to, is what will reincarnate us in the natural world, and what will be our one hope for salvation in the What’sToCome.

This is beautiful stuff, for sure, so I spent a little time with him this morning, and for some reason, you know, it is occurring to me more and more how much time of late I have spent with these autumnal minds melancholic with age and sighing deeply at life.  Isn’t there anyone middle aged out there tap dancing and tossing rose petals in the air?  If you read through some of Wright’s poems readily available online, you’ll see the beauty in his imagery and voice, the contemplative prophetic breeze in his language, but at its core is a forlorn weeping that just depresses me.  In the interview I mentioned above, Wright acknowledges the spiritual tone in his poems but eschews any sense of faith, which of course invites me to put on my best Church Lady voice and say, Well, isn’t that special?  No wonder you want to put your head in the oven.  the-church-lady-snlMuch of what I’ve been reading lately contains these misanthropic characters standing still like they’re stuck in some mish mash Beckett script, crying an endless loop of I want to believe.  I can’t believe.  Wright says,

I think I probably would like to believe. I believe in belief, for instance. And it is the greatest myth going, isn’t it? All those fabulous aspirations and assumptions! I mean, if it were true, what could be better? Everlasting life! I’ll take a hit off that, thank you very much. Just because you don’t believe it doesn’t mean you don’t like to talk about it, or think about it. Besides, I do believe in the efficacy of things unseen. It’s just that I don’t believe in this particular one. And there’s no point in just believing in the trappings, in the manifestations.

Wright’s “After Reading Tu Fu” (below) is a gorgeous poem with quiet images like “night drifts up like a little boat” and “fireflies are dragging the hush of evening up from the damp grass.”  But underneath these pastoral images is a smothering darkness, as his speaker, at fifty-four, feels there’s nothing left to look forward to.  The last lines: “Into the world’s tumult, into the chaos of every day, / Go quietly, quietly.”  Well, he can climb into that little boat and drift off into the still, dark, deep.  And I will wrap my arms around him and squeeze the sighs out of him.  Ruffle his hair and brush the backs of my fingertips along his cheekbone.  We’ll tear up together, and as my bare foot gives a shove to his little boat, I’ll quote Ram Dass and wave, “We’re all just walking each other home.”  But so help me God, I will go singing.


Body and Soul II

The structure of landscape is infinitesimal,
Like the structure of music,
seamless, invisible.
Even the rain has larger sutures.
What holds the landscape together, and what holds music together,
Is faith, it appears–faith of the eye, faith of the ear.
Nothing like that in language,
However, clouds chugging from west to east like blossoms
Blown by the wind.
April, and anything’s possible.

Here is the story of Hsuan Tsang.
A Buddhist monk, he went from Xian to southern India
And back–on horseback, on camel-back, on elephant-back, and on
Ten thousand miles it took him, from 29 to 645,
Mountains and deserts,
In search of the Truth,
the heart of the heart of Reality,
The Law that would help him escape it,
And all its attendant and inescapable suffering.
And he found it.

These days, I look at things, not through them,
And sit down low, as far away from the sky as I can get.
The reef of the weeping cherry flourishes coral,
The neighbor’s back porch light bulbs glow like anemones.
Squid-eyed Venus floats forth overhead.
This is the half hour, half-light, half-dark,
when everything starts to shine out,
And aphorisms skulk in the trees,
Their wings folded, their heads bowed.

Every true poem is a spark,
and aspires to the condition of the original fire
Arising out of the emptiness.
It is that same emptiness it wants to reignite.
It is that same engendering it wants to be re-engendered by.
Shooting stars.
April’s identical,
celestial, wordless, burning down.
Its light is the light we commune by.
Its destination’s our own, its hope is the hope we live with.

Wang Wei, on the other hand,
Before he was 30 years old bought his famous estate on the Wang River
Just east of the east end of the Southern Mountains,
and lived there,
Off and on, for the rest of his life.
He never travelled the landscape, but stayed inside it,
A part of nature himself, he thought.
And who would say no
To someone so bound up in solitude,
in failure, he thought, and suffering.

Afternoon sky the color of Cream of Wheat, a small
Dollop of butter hazily at the western edge.
Getting too old and lazy to write poems,
I watch the snowfall
From the apple trees.
Landscape, as Wang Wei says, softens the sharp edges of isolation.


The Last Supper

I seem to have come to the end of something, but don’t know what,
Full moon blood orange just over the top of the redbud tree.
Maundy Thursday tomorrow,
then Good Friday, then Easter in full drag,
Dogwood blossoms like little crosses
All down the street,
lilies and jonquils bowing their mitred heads.

Perhaps it’s a sentimentality about such fey things,
But I don’t think so. One knows
There is no end to the other world,
no matter where it is.
In the event, a reliquary evening for sure,
The bones in their tiny boxes, rosettes under glass.

Or maybe it’s just the way the snow fell
a couple of days ago,
So white on the white snowdrops.
As our fathers were bold to tell us,
it’s either eat or be eaten.
Spring in its starched bib,
Winter’s cutlery in its hands. Cold grace. Slice and fork.


After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to Dwarf Orchard

East of me, west of me, full summer.
How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
looking for home
As night drifts up like a little boat.

Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
Like this mockingbird,
I flit from one thing to the next.
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
up from the damp grass.
Into the world’s tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.


All poems by Charles Wright

You might be interested in this NYT Sunday Review article, “Poetry: Who Needs It?” by William Logan.

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what time will make of you

We read for a million reasons. To seek solace and companionship and affirmation. To bring alive or overcome the deepest darkest recesses of our minds. Reading is the best foil to the human condition . . . . It nurtures curiosity, gives wings to the search for knowledge, and improvement, the exploration of the world within and the world beyond. It’s the easiest form of escapism. There’s no better place to start than a book.

~ via

Photo1A friend and member of a small group I facilitated during Lent gave me a spirituality book I can’t wait to blog about, but it’s one of those books that will take some mulling over.  I’m only about 50 pages in, too, and who knows . . . it may take a terrible turn and render me a fool if I write about it too soon.  I’m not one to care too much about looking a fool, but still, I am loving this book right now and want to get it right.  It’s profound.  It’s provocative.  It made me weepy with resonance in the beginning chapters.  It’s about the power and imperative of storytelling.  It’s about narrative and myth, imagery symbol and metaphor.  It’s about the eternal presence of the divine and in particular, the manifestation of the eternal in the presence of Jesus and the story of his life and teachings.  It’s about spiritual awakening and transformation.  So far it’s solace, companionship AND affirmation, and I will blog about it soon!

Instead I’m going blog about this insightful piece below from the French philosopher-scientist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).  His name gets tossed about on blogs I read, and I gather he’s considered somewhat of an iconoclast for his forward thinking.  I confess I am unfamiliar with his ideas on the whole, but when I read this particular piece yesterday I thought, this is something to write about!  You can see on my morning mug the word P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E.  It’s a daily practice for me for sure, so I share the passage with you and the story I wrote after reading it.


Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ original source unknown

I have always considered myself an impatient person and was a child known for being around the corner in my mind before my body could catch up.  I still cringe thinking about all my stubbed toes. The banged foreheads.  Bruised shins and scraped knees.  I was a tiny mess of frenetic energy.  I even started two small fires in our house because I was too busy to wait around the kitchen.  One fire started while I was making popcorn on the burner.  We had one of those cool banjo-style popcorn poppers that were popular in the 1970s, the ones that you had to shake back and forth over the electric coil.  Who has time not to mention the arm strength for all that?  I guess I got tired and left the popcorn to pop itself.  The second was an oven fire.  It started during a summer when my brothers and I really had the run of the house all day while our teenaged sister slathered herself in baby oil and read Cosmo out by the pool.  Our house was fun but sort of dangerous, I guess.  A veritable Lord of the Flies in suburban Silicon Valley.  Anyway, on this particular summer day I wanted to make cookies, and somehow I got a batter together and put them in the oven.  On broil!  I just wanted them to cook faster, you know.  But again, I was too busy and ran off to play somewhere.  Eventually we smelled smoke coming from the oven door, and when my brother opened it, FLAMES SHOT OUT!  The story gets even better, because my brother really loved that TV show Emergency and wanted to be a firefighter, so he ran outside to the back patio for the garden hose.  He may have even stopped to put on a helmet and gloves, I can’t recall.  But I remember him running into the house with that green garden hose and squirting it into the oven until the fire went out.  It was so heroic and made me love him even more.  But more than anything else, I was devastated over my cookies, I mean, looking into that oven and seeing their charred and soggy remains still stuck to the pan like obsidian rocks.  As we cleaned up the mess, I thought to myself, If only I had stuck around we’d be eating these right now instead of scraping them into the trash!

In truth, aren’t we all trying to accomplish things in a hurry?  Don’t you just love a good shortcut?  I know I do.  And that’s why I was moved by this piece from Teilhard de Chardin because it reminds me of the importance of patience, trust and faith.  Whether you are someone on a spiritual path or someone just trying to put dinner on the table for your family, it helps to remember, we can’t speed up the clock or cut corners.  Above all, “we need to trust the slow work of God.”  Have faith in what time will make of you because in the end, all will be well.  Even if you broil your cookies.


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