Stephen Dunn

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac
with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world
except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving
someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.
I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet.
Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low
and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief
until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough
to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care
where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

A Proposal

Carl Dennis

Why don’t we set aside for a day
Our search for variety and have lunch
At the same café where we had lunch yesterday
And order the same avocado and Gouda sandwich
On whole wheat bread, toasted and buttered?

Why don’t we stroll again after lunch
To the river and back? I’ll be glad to interpret
Your wearing the blouse you wore yesterday
As a sign you’re still the person I think you are,
That this is the walk you want to take,

The one you didn’t get your fill of before.
And later, why don’t we hope for a sunset
That duplicates the valiant effort of yesterday:
Enough clouds for the light to play with,
Despite a haze that dims the hues?

Isn’t the insight worth repeating
That the end of the day may show itself
To be just as colorful as the beginning,
That a fine beginning isn’t a veil
That the end is destined to strip away?

The same words, but yesterday
They may have sounded a little tentative,
As if we weren’t sure we were ready
To stand behind them. Now if we choose
To repeat them, it means we are.

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed…

Edna St. Vincent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

After Reading John Clare on Thoughts of A Cow

Tom Hennen

There are deep hoofprints in the soft ground around the
wooden water tank. A steel windmill with its fan blades spin-
ning free in the summer wind. No water pumping because the
connecting lever is not in gear and the tank is full. Thick green
moss floats here and there on the water’s surface. Blue sky and
white clouds reflect in the pool, pulled out of heaven in a piece
just the right size to fit the old round wooden tank. The cow
yard is empty, the cows in the far pasture, strolling its hills for
grass, slowly, with quiet pleasure as if on a boulevard in Paris,
France. Nothing about a cow yard enters their thoughts until
late afternoon when I come with the dog to fetch them home.
Then they amble, dust stirred from its summer stupor by their
hard hooves that kick up the smell of dirt and powdered dung.
After the long walk from the pasture they remember they are
thirsty. Now in a hurry, they crowd around the water tank.
They drink and drink. When one raises her head, water and
setting sunlight drip from nose and muzzle. With a tin cup I
drink icy water from the pump and pour some into a pan for
the dog. The cows are dry of milk until fall. Now all they need
do is sleep. From the east dusk is sliding across the fields. Frogs
and crickets are tuning up, fireflies cannot wait and are air-
borne before the sun is completely down. The summer night
settles weightless as a feather on the grass. The windmill turn-
ing, cold water running out of the iron pipe into the tank, far-
off bells, and the murmur of starlight falling on water.

Peak Summer

Eric Nixon

We’re steeped deep in summer
And everything around me
Seems to indicate it’ll never end
But still I’m spending time
Looking for the subtle signs
Trying to figure out when
We’ve reached peak summer
When the billion green trees
Start to dull ever so slightly
When the bounty of vegetables
Found at all the local farm stands
Start thinning in quantity and quality
When the Halloween candy
Appears in the supermarkets
And the Back To School! signs
Show up in the big box stores
When the sun sets a little earlier
And gets a little more noticeable
Each night, night after night
Until you start thinking about
How much daylight you’ve lost
All of the signs and all of the things
I’ve been noticing are telling me
That we’re right in the midst of
Peak summer and if I’m not careful
It’ll be completely over
And I’ll have missed it entirely
As the season folds into fall


Joyce Sutphen

How lucky we are that we do not live
in the time of the Plague, when, in three

years a third of Europe’s population––
20 million people––died, and no one

knew the cause. How fortunate we
are to know that it was not the planets

or the wrath of God that caused it
but a tiny bacillus carried by fleas

on the backs of rats coming by ship
from Asia, and how much better it is

to live now, rather than in 1891, when
Thomas Edison filed patents for

the first motion picture camera and viewer,
which operated on a perceptual phenomenon

called “persistence of vision”––a thing that
tricked the brain into thinking it was seeing

seamless movement as the viewer stared
through a tiny peephole and beheld the

gray-and-black image of a horse, galloping.
This is what I think about as I leaf through

the ads for flat-screen TVs in today’s paper
or click a button on my phone to watch

a video posted from a pub in Ireland. Aren’t
we lucky that we have no idea how primitive

our lives will seem one day? How appalling
to realize that our best cures for cancer will

look like a form of torture and that we really
thought we couldn’t be everywhere at once.

The Thing Is

Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have not stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)]

e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Love Sorrow

Mary Oliver

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing the street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forhead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.

The Winter of Listening

David Whyte

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous

Silence and winter
has led me to that

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.