Goodness, by Kathleen Norris

Despite our good deeds,
the chatter
of our best intentions,
our many kindnesses,
God is at work
in us, close
to the bone,
past the sinews
of our virtues, to the marrow
we cannot feel,
the sudden, helpless tears
when we know what we are,
and can go on.

 

(from Journey)

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

 

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

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Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr

I opened up my shirt to show this man

the flaming heart he lit in me, and I was scooped up

like a lamb and carried to the dim warm.

I who should have been kneeling

was knelt to by one whose face

should be emblazoned on every coin and diadem:

 

That the world could arrive at me

with him in it, after so much longing—

impossible. He enters me and joy

sprouts from us as from a split seed.

 

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Poems by Pablo Neurda and W. H. Auden

(These two poems were read together)

 And it was at that age … Poetry arrived

in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where

it came from, from winter or a river.

I don’t know how or when,

no, (it was) not voices, (it was) not

words, (or) silence,

but from a street I was summoned,

from the branches of night…

 

there I was without a face

and it touched me.

 

I did not know what to say, my mouth

had no way

with names…

(but) something started in my soul,

fever or forgotten wings,

and I made my own way,

deciphering

that fire…

and suddenly I saw

the heavens

unfastened

and open,

planets,

palpitating plantations,

shadow perforated,

riddled

with arrows, fire and flowers,

the winding night, the universe.

 

And I, infinitesimal being,

drunk with the great starry

void,

likeness, image of

mystery,

for myself a pure part of the abyss,

I wheeled with the stars,

my heart broke loose on the wind.

 

He is the Way.

Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness.

You will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.

Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety.

You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.

Love Him in the World of the Flesh.

And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

 

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Forgiving our Fathers by Dick Lourie

How do we forgive our fathers?
Maybe in a dream.

Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often,
or forever,
when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage,
or for making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all?

Do we forgive our fathers for marrying,
or not marrying,
our mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses
of warmth
or coldness?

Shall we forgive them
for pushing
or leaning?

For shutting doors?
For speaking through walls?

Or never speaking?
Or never being silent?

Do we forgive our fathers in our age or in theirs?

Or in their deaths,
saying it to them,
or not saying it?

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When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

 

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

 

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;

when death comes

like the measle pox;

 

when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

 

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

 

And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,

 

and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,

 

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth

tending as all music does, toward silence,

 

and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth.

 

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

 

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened

or full of argument.

 

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

 

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First Lesson by Philip Booth

 

Lie back, daughter, let your head

be tipped back in the cup of my hand.

Gently, and I will hold you. Spread

your arms wide, lie out on the stream

and look high at the gulls. A dead-

man’s float is face down. You will dive

and swim soon enough where this tidewater

ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe

me, when you tire on the long thrash

to your island, lie up, and survive.

As you float now, where I held you

and let go, remember when fear

cramps your heart what I told you:

lie gently and wide to the light-year

stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

 

 

On the Death of a Colleague by Stephen Dunn

 

She taught theater, so we gathered

in the theater.

We praised her voice, her knowledge,

how good she was

with Godot and just four months later

with Gigi.

She was fifty. The problem in the liver.

Each of us recalled

an incident in which she’d been kind

or witty.

I told about being unable to speak

from my diaphragm

and how she made me lie down, placed her hand

where the failure was

and showed me how to breathe.

But afterwards

I only could do it when I lay down

and that became a joke

between us, and I told it as my offering

to the audience.

I was on stage and I heard myself

wishing to be impressive.

Someone else spoke of her cats

and no one spoke

of her face or the last few parties.

The fact was

I had avoided her for months.

 

It was a student’s turn to speak, a sophomore,

one of her actors.

She was a drunk, he said, often came to class

reeking.

Sometimes he couldn’t look at her, the blotches,

the awful puffiness.

And yet she was a great teacher,

he loved her,

but thought someone should say

what everyone knew

because she didn’t die by accident.

 

Everyone was crying. Everyone was crying and it

was almost over now.

The remaining speaker, an historian, said he’d cut

his speech short.

And the Chairman stood up as if by habit,

said something about loss

and thanked us for coming. None of us moved

except some students

to the student who’d spoken, and then others

moved to him, across dividers,

down aisles, to his side of the stage

 

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The Way it Is by William Stafford

 

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of that thread

 

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