Poem for a Sunday Morning

The Panther
{Rainer Maria Rilke}

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly — .
An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

{translation by Stephen Mitchell}


abus brand close up closed

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Shipwreck
{Kay Ryan}

I was shipwrecked beneath a stormless sky 
in a sea shallow enough to stand up in.

Fernando Pessoa

They’re laughable 
when we get there—
the ultimate articulations 
of despair: trapped 
in a tub filling with 
our own tears; strapped
to a breadstick mast
a mouse could chew 
down; hopping around 
the house in paper shackles
wrist and ankle. It’s
always stagey. Being
lost is just one’s fancy—
some cloth, some paste—
the essence of flimsy. 
Therefore we 
double don’t know 
why we don’t take off
the Crusoe rags, step
off the island, bow 
from the waist, accept 
your kudos.


ship wreckage

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Scaffolding
{Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013}

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.


red brick wall

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The only place where things are real

I hope you will set aside 20 minutes and take in what is a perfect introduction to David Whyte‘s work. A poet and philosopher, and a longtime consultant to leading organizations, he begins by talking about the “conversational nature of reality.” It’s a phrase that may seem esoteric but the meaning of which is fundamental to your experience as a parent, a partner, an employee, a leader, a friend and any other present or future role you can imagine.

Early in the talk he says, “The conversational nature of reality is the fact that whatever you desire of the world — whatever you desire of your partner in a marriage or a love relationship, whatever you desire of your children, whatever you desire of the people who work for you or with you, or your world — will not happen exactly as you would like it to happen.

But equally, whatever the world desires of us — whatever our partner, our child, our colleague, our industry, our future demands of us, will also not happen. And what actually happens is this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you. And this frontier of actual meeting between what we call a self and what we call the world is the only place, actually, where things are real.”

I hear this as an invitation to a third way…one that is about engagement with the unknown rather than the seduction and false security of yes/no, this or that thinking and acting. This requires the capacity to sit in complexity…messiness…precisely when we – when I – want my work and relationships to unfold in neat and tidy, measurable and manageable pieces.

The poems he recites are from a collection called “Pilgrim.” And the work that first made me a fan is called “The Heart Aroused.”


landscape photography of mountain

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Dear Mona
{Naomi Shihab Nye}

Dear Mona, do you know
how your old stucco building
marks the spot of Something True?
Your hand-lettered red sign rises up
like a crooked, friendly flag.
I can guess the menu:
bean & cheese, potato & egg,
maybe a specialty of your own making,
avocado twist or smoky salsa.
Your nombre is nice.
One taco might be enough.
You feed the ranchers who just lived through
the worst drought and flood back-to-back.
They touch the brims of their hats
when they see you.
Don’t we all need someone to greet us
to make us feel alive?

West of town, soft fields
ease our city-cluttered eyes,
There’s a rim of hills to hope for up ahead.
Mona, mysterious Mona,
I don’t have to eat with you to love you.
Every morning I think, Mona’s up.


three purple plastic chairs

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

I Happened To Be Standing
{Mary Oliver}

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.


selective focus photo of house wren perched on white birdhouse

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Hints of Gladness

That my daily writing sometimes elicits a positive comment or an appreciative mention makes me feel great. That once in a while, someone “likes” or shares my words is a kind reminder that a hand is holding the other tin can at the end of this string. I love knowing that you are there. I appreciate you for your kind attention.

And I do not do it for you. I do it for me.

My writing lets me know what I’m thinking and, more personally, what I need. I do not write to share expertise or “know how” though sometimes I find myself with one foot caught in that trap. I write because I trust that what is longing to be expressed are my own questions – a prelude to my own wisdom – seeking to come to my aid.

When I wrote yesterday about being a source instead of a resource, I was reminding myself to reassert my self-authorship, that only I get to decide how much of my creativity, energy and commitment to share. No one can do that for me. No one is waiting for me to shoot up an eager hand. No one is waiting to pick me.

In short order I came across yet another of Mary Oliver’s beautiful messages of reassurance and possibility. Here, she takes us into the forest to listen and then to notice how the trees encourage us to follow their example, to ease ourselves into being ourselves, our shining, light-filled selves.

I needed that today. Maybe you do, too.


When I Am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Poem for a Sunday Morning

A Dream of Trees
{Mary Oliver}

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments.
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company,
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.
And then it came to me, that so was death,
A little way away from everywhere.

There is a thing in me that still dreams of trees.
But let it go. Homesick for moderation,
Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.
If any find solution, let him tell it.
Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation
Where, as the times implore our true involvement,
The blades of every crisis point the way.

I wish it were not so, but so it is.
Who ever made music of a mild day?


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