Humming Through the Day

Not knowing anything, not even a wee bit
How’s that for a place to start?
Emptied of all that’s important
Happily ignorant of the worldly things
Lost when faced with polite conversation
Lost in the battle that so easily arrives

No home in the rapid, or the well planned
Not knowing what to say when
You flood me with right/wrong
“I have this toy, far better than yours”
Echoes in the ether, sounding silly

There must be another way

I stand in the silence that’s shining
Wavering sweetly in the nightly breeze
Passing right through the solid and dark
Feeling around inside the mist

Come join me on a journey that whispers
Come laugh with me as we stumble and fall
I like what I see in you
I’m refreshed by your smell
Let’s wander, meander and generally skip
I can’t think of a better day

Moistened

I feel like writing a poem.  The challenge is that I have no topic in mind … no plan.  No rhyme or reason.  (Wait a minute, I think I just made a poetry joke!)  I’m sitting here with bits of snow falling through the sun.  Special enough to let fly with unpremeditated verse.  And I don’t even care if you like it!

So here goes:

Underwater there is no understanding
The breathing is fine as the bubbles rise up
Suspended, gyrating and upside down
I lean into the wayward current

Down here I don’t have to be smart
Being witty and eloquent is a waste of time
As the water surrounding me, the words flow by
Unknown as the source, unknown as a goal

The arms straight out, rounding their tiny circles
The legs straight down, reaching for the core
The eyes wide open, so very well lubricated
And the heart sloshing away in the wetness of it all

I could live down here with some lessons from fish
I could thrive down here as the seaweeds wave greenly
And if I die down here, all will be swept away
As I retreat to the pebbles below

Perhaps I’ll burst above the surface of the sea
And arch my back to the rising sun
Propelled to the up and off to the sides
The horizon says “Hi!” on my way

Why not the middle, lying on the waves?
Ticked underneath, shone upon from above
On my back, feeling the massage of all time
In my smile as I’m cradled to sleep

That’ll do nicely.

Taken

Will you walk with me now to the far horizon?
Following the scent of a creature unknown
Will you gaze from on high to a vista sublime?
And feel other bones alongside your own

Is there a reason to venture far afield in the evening?
Is there a plan of your own mind’s creative aplomb?
Or is there launching of caution to the billowing wind?
And a glimpsing of what truly is home

It’s tempting for the journey to be a sole expedition
The lonely survivor of a world deemed unfair
Being right and strong and controlling the outcome
Who wouldn’t say yes to such a true dare?

Another voice waits in the depths of the canyon
“Just an echo of mine?” you casually ask
A nod says you’re sure there’s just one speaking
It’s crystal clear – your glorious task

But linger a bit, my friend of the journey
Pause with your basking in future applause
For there’s one, mostly hidden, curling his fingers toward you
Whispering a message of a far vaster cause

Walk through the canyon in the heat of the sun
Feel the eyes upon you, blessing your way
Revelation, exultation may be yours for the longing
Go on then to the shine of unknowable day

We Wait For The Next

The notes soar to the morning sun
As the wings of democracy remember their flight
Captive too long within the bars of steel
We can sing again

Faces twisted into the lies of stolen things
Faces crushed as the family sinks low
The scourge of disease beside the list of “others”
And we sink into the morass

There is much to say about the morrow
There is more to touch when we can touch again
I look in your eyes of whatever hue
And see myself looking back

There is me and there is you among our unknowings
Your clothes, your religion, your party intrude
But we can look past the left/right, the red/blue
To see the purple dress of the arriving one

I’m not of your country … I’m of mine
But we share so much across the borderline
We see the face, we hear the words, we sense the soul
And know what’s true

On we all go through the stories of country and soul
On we go as friends or foes … but not enemies please
The listening will come, the speaking will be soft
And prevailing in peace will be ours

A Poem

Two voices are having a conversation in my head …

Why don’t you write a poem today?

Huh?

You know, a poem – it’s like sentences but they flow better.

My dear friend, I’ve written one poem in my life and that was way back in the 1980’s.

That was then … this is now. Go for it!

I don’t know how to write a poem. Sounds like such a pain to make things rhyme.

It doesn’t have to rhyme. Besides, I don’t often hear the words “I don’t know how” coming from you.

Well, I guess you’re right about that. But I can’t think of anything to write about.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but that sounds like a lot of your evenings at the laptop.

Hmm. I suppose. But poems take a lot of time. As I remember, that one in the 80’s sure did.

Look, it’s 5:58. Why don’t you just dive in until 7:00 at the latest? Make it a stream of consciousness thing.

Nobody will understand that. I probably won’t understand it.

Who cares? Just do the darned thing. After you press “Publish” you’ll be able to say that you’ve written two poems!

You’re not going to give up, are you?

Hell, no! This is too much fun.

(Sigh)

Now it’s 6:03. Surely you realize that at 7:00 your carriage is going to turn back into a pumpkin.

Huh?

Cinderella, dear one. Now get going. Literary wonders await.

Right ∴ ∴ ∴ ∴ ∴ Okay … here goes:

***

Wandering through the world in this night of silence
Sensing the fairies beyond my window
I reach for the solid and simply find mist
I reach for the beloved and the smile comes by

Onward through the canyons
Onward across the sky
Beckoned by the spirit
Not knowing why … or who

There’s no direction to the flow of my life
Or is is it just no destination?
For the flow underground and all around is infinitely real
And the singing bowl sings out its song

The red within and the red without
Screams its joy in the moment
Blending now with the pinks of the world
Since white demands to be heard

What’s under the table?
What’s over the end of the world as I see it?
What’s the reason that these words appear?
Will they vanish as I fall away to dust?

I stand tall in the evening, not seeing the way
And not needing to see some direction
There is simply walking in the world and feeling the breeze
On the path that merges with the wood

A finger to the wind
A glance at the night sky
A sweet nod to life
And a smile that creases my face

***

Voilà!

Mary and You

Mary Oliver is a poet. She died last year. Perhaps I should ramble through the details of her life, the awards she’s won, a few choice words from those who appreciate her dearly. I could mention the scholarly papers which have analyzed her style and messages.

Or …

I could leave all that alone
And simply have Mary knock on your door …

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean
the one who has flung herself out of the grass
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Rumi

Was it yesterday? Was it three days ago? I don’t know. I was driving home and listening to the CBC – Canada’s public radio network. I love the interviews, and here came one with familiar names. Rumi was a Sufi poet of the 13th century. Coleman Barks is a poet and translator of Rumi’s works. Andrew Harvey is a poet and a mystic. They all talked. I listened.

And I’m still listening. No words of mine would add to what you’re about to read.

***

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

“The poet laureate of the planet Earth”

“The literary gifts of Shakespeare, the soul force of Christ or Buddha, the intellect of Plato”

“The supreme poet of love”

Your body’s height – six feet or so – but your soul rises through nine levels of sky.

“It makes me want to bow.”

God says I will lead you beyond this heaven and this earth to a purer heaven and earth you cannot imagine, whose nature is to expand the soul in joy.

“Why can’t people just learn how to grow silent and wait on the mystery?”

A palpable longing … all longings are one longing.

[Rumi and his teacher Shams] “Not a friendship but a storm front moving in”

“The two of them danced in the street.”

You will leave this Earth to enter, while you are still in the body, a vast expanse.

“What kinds of thinking could lead to opening onto these fields of quiet and majesty?”

Love is the soul’s light, the taste of morning … no me, no we.

“Absolute reverence for all beings”

“A caressing love”

These thousands of words that rise from nowhere … How does your face contain them?

“Rumi helps us realize that there is a love possible for us which is outrageously larger than any of the loves we think we know.”

What I had thought of before as God today I met in a human being [Shams].

“The rapture of the soul at seeing someone who is so holy that they are totally beautiful”

When two great lovers of God meet, they love the beauty of that love in the other.

“Anybody too happy and ecstatic will always freak people out … They saw two people absolutely alive in divine love for each other.”

:::

“He saw this wild and beautiful old man coming towards him. He knew instinctively that it must be Rumi. He prostrated himself in the dust before Rumi. When he stood up, he saw that Rumi had prostrated in the dust before him. And this went on for thirty-two times.

‘What are you doing? You’re the holiest man in the world.’

Rumi said ‘Why should I not bow before a servant of God? And how would I be useful if I did not show you my nothingness?'”

:::

“Human beings are lonesome for passion, and here’s a being whose every breath is sacred passion.”

It may be that God is the impulse to laugh, and that we are all the different kinds of laughter.

“They’d teach by going out into the square and laughing.”

I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons.

“It’s painful when we hide from intimacy. It’s fraudulent.”

We’re already inside of what we’re surrendering to.

“Reading Rumi’s poems, I went into this region that felt like home.”

“We will be guided by the Divine.”

Love cannot be said.

“He was possessed by the divine word. He never wrote anything down.”

Fall in love in such a way that it frees you from any connecting … You become love and you don’t ever miss love because love is in you.

“If the translator can get out of the way, the Presence is often clearly transmitted, from the 13th century.”

I see my beauty in you. I become a mirror that cannot close its eyes to your longing.

“To be one with the source from where the religions all come”

“I know the experience of love in myself. That’s enough. That is God.”

Everything is glowing with consciousness.

“Something in us recognizes beauty. That is what I’m calling God.”

My eyes wet with yours in the early light, my mind every moment giving birth, always conceiving, always in the ninth month

“I feel in me a source of love.”

Walk around, and love, and meet someone’s eyes.

“The Sufis say that when you meet the glance of another human being, you’re somehow blending your lineage with theirs. All the people that you have loved and have loved you – that’s your lineage … Just a glance, and some exchange happens there that metabolizes the soul growth of the planet.”

Nothing can teach you if you don’t unlearn everything. How learned I was before revelation made me dumb.

“I don’t know anything for sure except I’m here and I love.”

Glorious is the moment we sit in the palace – you and I
Two forms, two faces, but a single soul – you and I
The flowers will blaze and bird cries shower us with immortality
The moment we enter the garden – you and I
And all the stars of heaven will run out to gaze at us
As we burn like the full moon itself – you and I
The firewinged birds of heaven will rage with envy in that place
Where we laugh ecstatically – you and I
What a miracle, entwined in the same nest – you and I
What a miracle – you and I
One love, one lover, one fire … in this world and the next
In an ecstasy without end

The Desiderata

As a young adult, I had the poster on my wall for many years.  Within the delicate emergence of something beyond my self-centered concerns, it spoke truth.  The words vibrated inside me.  The poem rightfully took its place next to empty bottles of Chianti Ruffino wine, which I transformed into candles.

I would often look long at the whole spectrum of love that Max Ehrmann created.   I don’t remember analyzing the thoughts.  Instead I simply let them waft over me.  Somehow I knew that was enough.

There must have been one too many moves in my nomadic youth, because The Desiderata left me one day.  I don’t even remember missing it.  My walls filled instead with paintings – visual heart-tuggings rather than the majesty of the phrase.  I didn’t think of Max’s masterpiece for decades.

But the man has returned.  He smiles at me once more.  And it’s all so gentle.  Not all of the sentences still shimmer, and that’s okay.  The whole has guided me over the years, and I didn’t even know it.  A magical absorption was at work.  And I am the better for the words having roamed around within me for so long.

Here is The Desiderata.  I hope you enjoy it.

***

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 to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.  If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or 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 in your soul.  With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  Be cheerful.  Strive to be happy.

Gord

I have musical heroes as no doubt you do. I saw Gordon Lightfoot in concert at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in 1972. He was 34. I was 23. He sang into my soul. My favourite song was Did She Mention My Name? And it still is.

It’s so nice to meet an old friend and pass the time of day
And talk about the hometown a million miles away
Is the ice still on the river? Are the old folks still the same?
And by the way, did she mention my name?

Did she mention my name just in passing?
And when the morning came
Do you remember if she dropped a name or two?
Is the home team still on fire? Do they still win all the games?
And by the way, did she mention my name?

Ahh, yes. I so much wanted to be loved. I so much wanted a love. And Gord spoke right to me of the longing.

Tonight I sit in Hugh’s Room in Toronto. It’s an intimate venue of folk music – the songs of the people. In an hour, musicians will step onto the stage for The Way We Feel: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot. We’ll hear Gord’s songs, and if we’re lucky, the man himself will join us for a few tunes. To hear the singer-songwriter who’s sold out huge halls for sixty years in a room of 200 would be such a blessing.

I’ll be fine if Gord doesn’t show up but what a privilege if he does. Hugh’s Room has hosted these four tribute evenings in a row for fifteen years. Every time, Mr. Lightfoot has appeared a couple of times. Maybe this is my lucky night.

I want to applaud someone who has created such beauty. But really we all do that, in different ways. Perhaps I need to applaud all human beings. We all struggle. We all overcome. We all could have songs written about us.

It’s intermission now and Gord’s poetry has filled the room. Such as On a Winter’s Night with You:

The lamp is burnin’ low upon my table top
The snow is softly fallin’
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly callin’

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter’s night with you

Or how about the bittersweet Affair on Eighth Avenue?

And our fingers entwined like ribbons of light
And we came through a doorway somewhere in the night

Her long flowing hair came softly undone
And it lay all around
And she brushed it down as I stood by her side
In the warmth of her love

There have been seven or eight singers so far and what’s true, beyond their prime musicianship, is their love for Gord. I share that love. What gifts he’s given to folks eager to hear. Generations of Canadians and world citizens have been slowed and then stopped by his words of the heart:

Rain is falling on the meadow
Where once my love and I did lie
Now she is gone from the meadow
My love goodbye

Ribbon of darkness over me
Where once the world was young as spring
Where flowers did bloom and birds did sing
Ribbon of darkness over me

Here in this cold room lyin’
Don’t want to see no one but you
Lord I wish I could be dyin’
To forget you

Oh how I wish your heart could see
How mine just aches and breaks all day
Come on home and take away
This ribbon of darkness over me

The band is coming back to the stage. And my writing feels done for the day. I’ll tell you tomorrow if Gord came by to say hi.

***

Hello, everyone. It’s tomorrow. No Gord last night. (Sigh) But the singers and players onstage created miracles in song.

I can’t help it … I just have to share more lyrics with you:

Early Mornin’ Rain

In the early mornin’ rain
With a dollar in my hand
With an aching in my heart
And my pockets full of sand
I’m a long ways from home
And I miss my loved ones so
In the early mornin’ rain
With no place to go

***

Pussywillows, Cattails, Soft Winds and Roses

Pussywillows, cattails, soft winds and roses
Rainbows in the woodland, water to my knees
Shivering, quivering, the warmth breath of spring
Pussywillows, cattails, soft winds and roses

Catbirds and cornfields, daydreams together
Riding on the roadside, the dust gets in your eyes
Revelling, dishevelling, the summer nights can bring
Pussywillows, cattails, soft winds and roses

***

If You Could Read My Mind

I never knew I felt this way
And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it
I don’t know where we went wrong
But the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back

If you could read my mind, love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like a oldtime movie about a ghost from a wishing well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
The story always ends
And if you read between the lines
You’ll know that I’m just trying to understand
The feeling that you left

***

The Long River

Where the long river flows
It flows by my window
Where the tall timber grows
It grows ’round my door
Where the mountains meet the sky
And the white clouds fly
Where the long river flows
By my window

There’s a tiny bird that calls
And he calls by my window
There’s a lonely tear that falls
And it falls ’round my door
But when the sun is high
There’s no time to cry
Where the long river flows
By my window

***

Oh, Gord … from where did your words come?
Thank you, dear sir, for shining a light on our lives

Twas

Twelve years ago my friend Carol, who was working at the library in Port Stanley, Ontario, came up to me with a request.  Would I “do something” at the Christmas talent show for the kids who attend library programs?

“Sure.”

Then Carol whips out the sheets of paper she was hiding behind her back.  Behold the words for “Twas The Night Before Christmas”.  Once I calmed down, and found out that I’d be wearing a nightgown and a stocking cap, and hoisting a candle onstage, I agreed.  “Okay, I’ll read the poem to the kids.”

“No.”

“What do you mean ‘no’?”

“No reading.  Lots of memorizing.”

That was October.  After many visits to Sebastian’s restaurant in London, and much caffeine, and two months of cramming, I actually knew all the words.  And my performance at the show was a rousing success (or so I fantasize).

The next year I decided to take my act on the road.  I was an itinerant teacher of visually impaired students, and visited a lot of schools.  I asked my elementary teaching friends if they’d like me to recite in their classrooms, and many said yes.

So began years of Santa poem renditions.  Thousands of kids watched and listened. There was much happiness within me and, I think, in the hearts of the young’uns.

Which brings me to today.  My friend Heather had arranged for me to speak to ten classes, ranging from kindergarten to Grade 5.  I hadn’t done Twas last year, since my heart was heavy with Jody’s death.  But now I was eager.

The kids were so close to me, typically sitting on a carpet in front of my rocking chair.  Those young faces in the front row looked way up at me.  And I got on a roll.  Words tumbled out and so did audience smiles:

The children were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads

When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer

His eyes how they twinkled, his dimples how merry
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry

He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle

There was enthusiastic applause as I finished.  I was pleased.  But I knew that Part Two follows Part One.  I told the kids about a moment three years ago.  It was early December.  I had accompanied Jody to the doctor’s office and was sitting alone in the waiting room.  Alone except for the receptionist, that is.  I then did what any normal person would have done in this situation:

“Would you like me to recite ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’?”

“Uhh … sure.”

Ignoring the woman’s somewhat muted enthusiasm, I launched into my shtick.  And I’d say she was much happier as I ended with “Merry Christmas to all … and to all a good night.”

And here came Jody out of the inner office, accompanied by a nurse.  Once more I offered my services.

“No, Bruce.  We don’t have time.  We need to get home, wrap those presents, and get them to the post office today, or they won’t get to Alberta by Christmas.”

I was scared, but decided to carry on.

“Well, what if I say it fast?”

“Do you know how to say it fast?”

“I’ve never tried, but let me give it a shot.”

“Okay, but hurry.”

And thus began my second “Night Before Christmas” career – “Speedy Twas”.

Oh my.  Kids laugh and laugh.  And so do I.  My record has been one minute and twenty-eight seconds.  Today, one class of small people challenged me to go low.  As the second hand closed in on 12, there was a hush.  And then bursts of excitement as I sallied forth.  Small cheers erupted as I blurted out “His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.”  One minute.  I heard “Go, go, go!” in my head.  It was 1:10 when Santa sprang to his sleigh.

I collapsed into “And to all a good night” while one young soul yelled out “1:19!”  Oh my goodness.  It’s a new world record.  And what a good boy am I.

I looked at all those upturned mouths, with several bodies lying flat on the carpet, in various stages of writhe.  And I knew … I was home.

May Christmas come every year
May the words always fill my head
And may children laugh