The Witchery of Living
A poem by Mary Oliver. This is an excerpt from that poem. I plan on uploading a video of the whole poem in the near future, but I find this section particularly meaningful at this time in my life.
To Begin With, The Sweet Grass
The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.
Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.
It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life—just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
Love After Love
The weight of heartbreak and loss can envelop us in what feels like darkness so deep and wide, it is unimaginable to think of receiving love from another again. However, the most neglected and estranged person we encounter in our lives is oftentimes ourselves.
It is possible to love ourselves again, or for the first time. This poem by Derek Walcott tells us to discard the letters and preconceived images we have of ourselves that were borne out of disappointment and to love those parts of ourselves we have neglected. Fall in love with that stranger.
Love After Love
by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Prescription for the Disillusioned
Too often, we only have indifference, neglect, or even contempt for ourselves. Yet it is self-compassion that opens our hard shells to new beginnings and out of the illusion of futility. It is imperative in these times that we show ourselves the compassion we wish others would show to the suffering. Who among us is not suffering at times and who among us is not worthy of compassion?
Prescription for the Disillusioned
by Rebecca del Rio
Come new to this day.
Remove the rigid overcoat of experience,
the notion of knowing,
the beliefs that cloud your vision.
Leave behind the stories of your life.
Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation.
Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp
of your useless fears.
Arrive curious, without the armor of certainty,
the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined.
Live the life that chooses you,
new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.
– Rebecca del Rio
How The Stars Get in Your Bones
A poem by Jan Richardson tells of the luminosity that can come from integrating one’s grief and letting it set fire to the fractured parts within. As caregivers to loved ones, nature, the world, we are burdened with an enormous responsibility that may feel like a suffocating weight. However, this weight can be used as alchemy to form diamonds.
How the Stars Get in Your Bones
by Jan Richardson
Sapphire, diamond, emerald, quartz:
think of every hard thing
that carries its own brilliance,
shining with the luster that comes
only from uncountable ages
in the earth, in the dark,
buried beneath unimaginable weight,
bearing what seemed impossible,
bearing it still.
And you, shouldering the grief
you had thought so solid, so impermeable,
the terrible anguish
you carried as a burden
who can say what day it happened?—
See how the sorrow in you
slowly makes its own light,
how it conjures its own fire.
See how radiant
even your despair has become
in the grace of that sun.
Did you think this would happen
by holding the weight of the world,
by giving in to the press of sadness
I tell you, this blazing in you—
it does not come by choosing
the most difficult way, the most daunting;
it does not come by the sheer force
of your will.
It comes from the helpless place in you
that, despite all, cannot help but hope,
the part of you that does not know
how not to keep turning
toward this world,
to keep turning your face
toward this sky,
to keep turning your heart
toward this unendurable earth,
knowing your heart will break
but turning it still.
I tell you,
this is how the stars
get in your bones.
This is how the brightness
makes a home in you,
as you open to the hope that burnishes
every fractured thing it finds
and sets it shimmering,
a generous light that will not cease,
no matter how deep the darkness grows,
no matter how long the night becomes.
Still, still, still
the secret of secrets
keeps turning in you,
kindling the luminous way
by which you will emerge,
carrying your shattered heart
like a constellation within you,
singing to the day
that will not fail to come.
What The Living Do
Today I share with you this poem by Marie Howe, “What The Living Do.”
During those mundane days when I feel trapped in an ordinary life and perhaps feeling the losses more strongly, I find myself repeating the title of this poem. This is what the living do.
Life is a container for both our gratitude and grief. And it is grief that is felt most strongly in the repetition of tasks and the silence of the night. It is the way back to gratitude. And it is what the living do.
What the Living Do
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
Over the past two years, I have experienced more loss than my entire life before this time. I know I am not the only one. It has been a dark night for our world, a darkness we must walk through in order to exit, hopefully, wiser and more compassionate. There is a quote I like that helps me remember that the darkness must be embraced and listened to for the alchemy to transform ourselves and our world. “The only way out is through. The only way through is in.”
However, this is only half of the alchemy. We have been taught in our culture that, after a short time, the only acceptable way to grieve is behind closed doors, alone. And it does not address the daily grief that those in caregiving roles shoulder almost daily. We have been taught to “get over it,” “move on,” “do not burden others.”
What we have forgotten in our culture is the other half of the grieving process, the way in which the transformation can happen for us as individuals and as a society. We in the “modern world” have lost the communal experience, the vessel in which we come together as a community and hear and hold each other through our grief.
This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke may speak to that reaching out. Whom is he asking for help? A divine presence? A loved one? His ancestors? His community?
I hope this poem gives you some solace and perhaps an answer for your own situation.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.
I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
The Patterns of Your Life
Let us say, your story goes like this….
This is another poem that I contemplate almost daily, The Art of Fugue VI by Jan Zwicky. Why is it that the patterns of our lives repeat themselves? What is it that we need to understand, hear, or learn? I listen more intently now to the quiet between the moments of my noisy life. Perhaps someday, I will hear what I need to hear.
The Art of Fugue, Part VI
Once again, the moment of impossible
transition, the bow, its silent voice
above the string. Let us say
the story goes like this. Let us say
you could start anywhere.
Let us say you took your splintered being
by the hand, and led it
to the centre of a room: starlight
through the floorboards of the soul.
The patterns of your life
repeat themselves until you listen.
Forgive this. Say now
what you have to say.
To Love What Death Can Touch
Recently, I have found much comfort in this 12th-Century poem, especially during this time when everything seems to be changing and out of our control. In order to truly feel the depth of appreciation for those people and beings we love, whether a parent, a pet or a flower, it is necessary to see that their end will come as well. Everything we love, we will lose. It is an unchanging law of this physical world. I try to walk the path of holding these two seeming opposites in my hands. Grief and gratitude. They are twins of the same mother, love.
Here is the 12th-Century poem in written and video form (click the picture above). The author is unknown.
‘Tis a fearful thing
What death can touch.
To love, to hope, to dream
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
But a holy thing
To love what death can touch.