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Thursday, April 30, 2020

April 30: "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley

The 2020 National Poetry Month poster from


by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.


Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day! That means you should carry around a poem in your pocket today. Pick one you really enjoy. Then, read it to someone or otherwise share it. If you're lucky, they'll have a poem in their pocket, too, to share with you. (If you want to read more about my background celebrating this fab holiday, I wrote a guest post for my friend's book blog back in 2014. You can read it here.) Today, I'll be carrying with me the powerful poem above. (Carrying it around the house since, you know, lockdown. But still. It'll be in my pocket per the rules!)

I had big ideas for this year's Poem in Your Pocket Day festivities, but obviously the pandemic had other plans. So my plans have to wait until we can, you know, leave our houses and come within 6 feet of one another. But we'll get there. Here's hoping we'll have a vaccine by next April (that's probably too soon to have one ready yet, but we're gonna hope for it just the same!) 

Today is also the last day of April, which means the last day of daily poems. Thank you for joining me this month. I hope you read a poem or two (or ten!) that spoke to you and made you smile or laugh or sigh or feel understood. 

Here's to all the beautiful words we shared this month. Here's to the poetry. Be well, friends.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April 29: "My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms" by Bon Jovi

My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms
by John Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora
My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Misery likes company I like the way that sounds
I've been trying to find the meaning
So I can write it down
Staring out the window it's such a long way down
I'd like to jump but I'm afraid to hit the ground

I can't write a love song the way I fell today
I can't sing no song of hope
I've got nothing to say
Life is feeling kind of strange
Since you went away
I sing this song to you wherever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms

I'm tired of watching TV it makes me want to scream
Outside the world is burning
Man it's so hard to believe
Each day you know you're dying
From the cradle to the grave
I get so numb sometimes that I just feel the pain

I can't write a love song the way I feel today
I can't sing no song of hope
I got nothing to say
Life is feeling kind of strange
Strange enough these days
I send this song to you whoever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms

Staring at the paper I don't know what to write
I'll have my last cigarette-well, turn out the lights
Maybe tomorrow I'll feel a different way
But here in my delusion I don't know what to say

I can't write a love song the way I feel today
I can't sing no song of hope
I've got nothing to say
And I can't fight the feelings
That are burning in my veins
I send this song to you wherever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding

I can't write a love song the way I feel today
I can't sing no song of hope
There's no one left to save
And I can't fight the feelings buried in my brains
I send this song to you wherever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms 

Source: LyricFind

Personal Note:

Last weekend, for a change in scenery and because I felt incredibly sad, I went for a walk in my old neighborhood. I thought a stroll down memory lane might cure what ailed me: namely, a sense of loss over my previous, less fraught way of life. 

I thought visiting my old neighborhood and walking the streets from my (mostly happy) childhood would calm me down. Or cheer me up. Or both. 

Sadly, it made it a little worse. The neighborhood looked so different. The changed landscaping made the street I’d lived on almost unrecognizable. (There used to be hedges and trees separating property lines, setting each house apart as its own little section. Now most of those were gone. Each house blurred into the next.) My elementary school has been leveled and replaced with a new housing development. The whole experience was incredibly sad. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course, since I haven’t lived there in over 17 years, but it was still jarring. 

What hadn’t changed, though, were the streets. Those I walked the same way I did in the evenings with my best friend all those years ago. I even texted her while passing some of our favorite old spots. Also keeping me company on this walk was Bon Jovi’s album These Days

One of them—today’s “poem”-- stood out to me as I walked along. The lyrics resonated as I thought of this current situation and how I haven’t been able to do much writing (or even significant reading since I can’t concentrate for long spells) since sheltering-in-place started. 

Listen to the song here

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

April 28: "A Woman's Answer to a Man's Question" by Mary T. Lathrap

A Woman's Answer to a Man's Question
by Mary T. Lathrap (1838-1895)
(Written in reply to a man's poetic unfolding of what he conceived to be a woman's duty.)

    Do you know you have asked for the costliest thing 
        Ever made by the hand above— 
    A woman's heart, and a woman's life 
        And a woman's wonderful love?

    Do you know you have asked for this priceless thing 
        As a child might ask for a toy, 
    Demanding what others have died to win, 
        With the reckless dash of a boy?

    You have written my lesson of duty out, 
        Man-like you have questioned me; 
    Now stand at the bar of my woman's soul 
        Until I shall question thee.

    You require your mutton shall always be hot, 
        Your socks and your shirt be whole; 
    I require your heart to be true as God's stars, 
        And as pure as heaven your soul.

    You require a cook for your mutton and beef; 
        I require a far better thing. 
    A seamstress you're wanting for socks and shirts; 
        I look for a man and a king.

    A king for the beautiful realm called home, 
        And a man that the maker, God, 
    Shall look upon as he did the first 
        And say, "It is very good."

    I am fair and young, but the rose will fade 
        From my soft, young cheek one day, 
    Will you love me then 'mid the falling leaves, 
        As you did 'mid the bloom of May?

    Is your heart an ocean so strong and deep, 
        I may launch my all on its tide? 
    A loving woman finds heaven or hell 
        On the day she is made a bride.

    I require all things that are grand and true, 
        All things that a man should be; 
    If you give all this, I would stake my life 
        To be all you demand of me.

    If you cannot do this — a laundress and cook 
        You can hire, with little to pay, 
    But a woman's heart and a woman's life 
        Are not to be won that way.

Monday, April 27, 2020

April 27: "The Moment" by Marie Howe

The Moment
by Marie Howe (2011)

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment
when,    nothing
no what-have-I-to-do today list

maybe  half a moment
the rush of traffic stops.
The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be
slows to silence,
the white cotton curtains hanging still. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 26: "I May, I Might, I Must" by Marianne Moore

I May, I Might, I Must
by Marianne Moore

If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

April 25: "Anger" by Charles and Mary Lamb

by Charles and Mary Lamb

Anger in its time and place 
May assume a kind of grace. 
It must have some reason in it, 
And not last beyond a minute.
If to further lengths it go, 
It does into malice grow. 
'Tis the difference that we see 
Twixt the serpent and the bee. 
If the latter you provoke,
It inflicts a hasty stroke. 
Puts you to some little pain,
But it never stings again. 
Close in tufted bush or brake
Lurks the poison-swelled snake 
Nursing up his cherish'd wrath; 
In the purlieux of his path,
In the cold, or in the warm,
Mean him good, or mean him harm, 
Whensoever fete may bring you,
The vile snake will always sting you.

Friday, April 24, 2020

April 24: "April Rain Song" by Langston Hughes

April Rain Song
by Langston Hughes from Collected Poems (Estate of Langston Hughes, 1994)

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night--
And I love the rain. 
In case you want to hear the poem with some graphics, here's 2 options for you. 
This one is from Disney Junior and features Disney characters. (The poem itself starts around the 35 second mark after an introduction of kids talking about how they love poetry.)
This one is by the New York Botanical Gardens, and features lovely nature shots. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

April 23: "Forgetfulness" by Billy Collins

by Billy Collins from Questions About Angels (University of Pittsburg Press, 1999)

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

April 22: "I'm Feeling Fabulous, Possibly Too Much So. But I Love It" by Mary Oliver

I'm Feeling Fabulous, Possibly Too Much So. But I Love It
by Mary Oliver from Blue Horses (Penguin Press, 2014) 

It's spring and Mockingbird is teaching himself
new ways to celebrate. 
If you can imagine that--that gusty talker.
And the sky is painting itself a brand-new
robust blue
plenty of which is spilling into the pond.
I don't weigh very much, but right now
I weigh nothing.
And my mind is, I guess you would say, compounded.
One voice is saying, Ah, it's Mockingbird.
Another voice is saying, The pond never looked
this blue before.
Another voice says, There couldn't ne a more
splendid world, and here I am
existing in it.
I think, just for the joy of it, I'll fly.
I believe I could.

And yet another voice says, Can we come down
from the clouds now?
And some other voice answers, Okay.
But only for a while. 

A note from me: I love this poem. I've had it earmarked to share since I decided to share poems this month. However, I'd been waiting for--hoping for-- a day I was actually feeling fabulous. Unfortunately, lately, I haven't had any of those days. The best I've managed is "okay," but definitely not "fabulous" in any degree.  

Now, though, it is Earth Day. And despite a strong breeze and cooler-than-preferable temperatures, it's gorgeous out. The sky is blue. The sun is shining. The flowering trees are blooming. The leaves are pushing out of their buds. The world looks alive and stunning and, dare I say, fabulous. 

So, rereading this poem, I feel like maybe--even if I can only manage it for a short while--I need to force myself to let these wonders of natures spread outward to make me feel fabulous.

For Earth Day, the poem had to be one by Mary Oliver, because no one is better than she is at noticing and capturing life itself in her poems. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

April 21: "No Matter What" by Mary Oliver

No Matter What
by Mary Oliver, from Blue Horses (Penguin, 2014)

No matter what the world claims,
its wisdom always growing, so it’s said,
some things don’t alter with time: 
the first kiss is a good example,
and the flighty sweetness of rhyme.

No matter what the world preaches
spring unfolds at its appointed time,
the violets open and the roses,
snow in its hour builds its shining curves,
there’s the laughter of children at play,
and the wholesome sweetness of rhyme. 

No matter what the world does,
Some things don’t alter with time. 
The first kiss, the first death,
The sorrowful sweetness of rhyme.

Monday, April 20, 2020

April 20: "Burning the Old Year" by Naomi Shihab Nye

Burning the Old Year
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Letters swallow themselves in seconds. 
Notes friends tied to the doorknob, 
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable, 
lists of vegetables, partial poems. 
Orange swirling flame of days, 
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t, 
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space. 
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves, 
only the things I didn’t do 
crackle after the blazing dies. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

April 19: "Otherwise" by Jane Kenyon


by Jane Kenyon from Otherwise: New & Selected Poems

I got out of bed
on two strong legs. 
It might have been 
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might 
have been otherwise. 
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and 
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

April 18: "No Thank You, John" by Christina Rossetti

No Thank You, John
by Christina Rossetti in Goblin Market and Other Poems

I never said I loved you, John:
Why will you tease me, day by day,
And wax a weariness to think upon
With always “do” and “pray”?

You know I never loved you, John;
No fault of mine made me your toast:
Why will you haunt me with a face as wan
As shows an hour-old ghost?

I dare say Meg or Moll would take
Pity upon you, if you’d ask:
And pray don’t remain single for my sake
Who can’t perform that task.

I have no heart?—Perhaps I have not;
But then you’re mad to take offence
That I don’t give you what I have not got:
Use your common sense.

Let bygones be bygones:
Don’t call me false, who owed not to be true:
I’d rather answer “No” to fifty Johns
Than answer “Yes” to you.

Let’s mar our pleasant days no more,
Song-birds of passage, days of youth:
Catch at to-day, forget the days before:
I’ll wink at your untruth.

Let us strike hands as hearty friends;
No more, no less: and friendship’s good:
Only don’t keep in view ulterior ends,
And points not understood

In open treaty. Rise above
Quibbles and shuffling off and on:
Here’s friendship for you if you like; but love,—
No, thank you, John.

I stumbled upon this poem a few nights ago and read this interesting write up about it, and it just made me shake my head. No means no, John. Thanks bye. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

April 17: "The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

April 16: "Good Bones" by Maggie Smith

Good Bones

by Maggie Smith from Waxwing magazine (Issue IX, Summer 2016) 

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative 
estimate, though I keep this from my children. 
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world 
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on 
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

April 15: "When Giving Is All We Have" by Alberto Rios

When Giving Is All We Have

by Alberto Rios

                                    One river gives
                                    Its journey to the next. 

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

April 14: "I Dream a World" by Langston Hughes

I Dream a World

by Langston Hughes

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world! 

Monday, April 13, 2020

April 13: "The Moment" by Billy Collins

The Moment 
by Billy Collins from Poetry Magazine (April 2005)

It was a day in June, all lawn and sky,
the kind that gives you no choice
but to unbutton your shirt
and sit outside in a rough wooden chair.

And if a glass of ice tea and an anthology
of seventeenth-century devotional poetry
with a dark blue cover are available,
then the picture can hardly be improved.

I remember a fly kept landing on my wrist,
and two black butterflies
with white and red wing-dots
bobbed around my head in the bright air.

I could feel the day offering itself to me,
and I wanted nothing more
than to be in the moment-- but which moment?
Not that one, or that one, or that one,

or any of those that were scuttling by
seemed perfectly right for me.
Plus, I was too knotted up with questions
about the past and his tall, evasive sister, the future.

What churchyard held the bones of George Herbert?
Why did John Donne's wife die so young?
And more pressingly,
what could we serve the vegetarian twins

we had invited for dinner that evening
not knowing then that they travel with their own grapes?
And who was the driver of that pickup
flying down the road toward the single railroad track?

And so the priceless moments of the day
were squandered one by one--
or more likely several thousand at a time--
with quandary and pointless interrogation.

All I wanted was to be a pea of being
at rest inside the pod of time,
but that was not going to happen today,
I had to admit to myself

as I closed the blue book on the face
of Thomas Traherne and returned to the house
where I lit a flame under a pot
full of water where some eggs were afloat,

and, while they were cooking,
stared into a little oval mirror by the sink
just to see if that crazy glass
had anything particular to say to me today.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

April 12: "Two Butterflies went out at Noon" by Emily Dickinson

Two Butterflies went out at Noon -- (533)
by Emily Dickinson

Two Butterflies went out at Noon--
And waltzed above a Farm--
Then stepped straight through the Firmament
And rested on a Beam--

And then--together bore away
Upon a shining Sea--
Though never yet, in any Port--
Their coming mentioned--be--

If spoken by the distant Bird--
If met in Ether Sea
By Frigate, or by Merchantman--
No notice--was--to me--

Saturday, April 11, 2020

April 11: "Go to the Limits of Your Longing" by Rainer Maria Rilke

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing”
by Rainer Maria Rilke from Book of Hours I59
Translated by  Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

The lines "Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final" was the central idea within my daily Calm meditation on Uncertainty. (By the way, I highly recommend that app. I've been using it for a few years now.) I liked the sentiment so much I decided to look it up and, guess what? Part of a poem! 

It appears in Rilke's collection The Book of Hours. Per Penguin Random House: "At the beginning of this century, a young German poet returned from a journey to Russia, where he had immersed himself in the spirituality he discovered there. He “received” a series of poems about which he did not speak for a long time – he considered them sacred, and different from anything else he ever had done and ever would do again. This poet saw the coming darkness of the century, and saw the struggle we would have in our relationship to the divine. The poet was Rainer Maria Rilke, and these love poems to God make up his Book of Hours."

If you're interested in reading more about that collection, here's a wikipedia article about it.