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September 14, 2012
From Brother Bill Denham:
I have told the story before of how I discovered Ich und Du on a bargain shelf at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland back in April.
I had known of Martin Buber’s little book since my college days but had never read it. Now I have and just how deeply his words resonated with me and within me is indicated by my picking it up again this past week and starting our second journey together.
Though, I and Thou, as it is commonly known in its English translation, is a prose work, it is certainly poetic prose and offers huge challenges for the translator. I am reading Walter Kaufmann’s translation and have found his thorough and thoughtful Introduction illuminating. Here are the final words of that Introduction:
Ich und Du speaks to men and women who have become wary of promises and hopes; it takes its stand resolutely in the here and now. It is a sermon on the words of Hillel:
“If I am only for myself, what am I?
In not now, when?”
As is the case with any relationship, the connection informs and changes who we are. My fledgling connection with Martin Buber is no exception. I will share a short poem with you as is my custom. This time it is one of my own. It is an expression of where I am in the here and now and part of me has been informed by reading Ich und Du. I make no connection between my words and Buber’s words beyond saying we are now in each other’s company. And as with any work of art or poem you bring yourself to it and find in it what is yours to find.
Stars and black holes
Were the gods to take
all the moments of our lives
and scatter them across the heavens
like stars, for all to see,
could we bear the beauty
and the majesty and the mystery
of our ordinary being, made visible so?
And could we then approach
holding the invisible, as, also, a part of ourselves,
the insatiable black holes that devour
the very light of our lives,
suck it down
out of sight?
July 21, 2012
Mike Coleman spoke these two poems:
I am too alone in the world, and not alone enough
to make every minute holy.
I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
just to lie before you like a thing,
shrewd and secretive.
I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action,
and in the silent, sometimes hardly moving times
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know secret things*
or else alone.
I want to be a mirror for your whole body,
and I never want to be blind, or to be too old
to hold up your heavy and swaying picture.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
because where I am folded, there I am a lie.
And I want my grasp of things
true before you. I want to describe myself
like a painting that I looked at closely for a long time,
like a saying that I finally understood,
like the pitcher I use every day,
like the face of my mother,
like a ship
that took me safely
through the wildest storm of all.
Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly
*(I used the phrase “deep wisdom” rather than Bly’s “secret things.”)
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like 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.
Come, give me your hand.
~Rainer Maria Rilke
July 14, 2012
From Hari Meyers: And I did three poems during the Slug Clan fest —
I’m listening. But I don’t know
If what I hear is silence or God.
I’m listening. But I can’t tell
If I hear the plane of emptiness echoing
Or a keen consciousness
That at the bounds of the universe
Deciphers and watches me.
I only know I walk like someone
Beheld, Beloved and Known.
And because of this
I put into my every movement
Solemnity and Risk.
- Sophia DeMello-Breyner
(translated from the
The Man Watching
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
One Hour to Madness and Joy
by Walt Whitman
One hour to madness and joy! O furious! O confine me not!
(What is this that frees me so in storms?
What do my shouts amid lightnings and raging winds mean?)
O to drink the mystic deliria deeper than any other man!
O savage and tender achings! (I bequeath them to you my children,
I tell them to you, for reasons, O bridegroom and bride.)
O to be yielded to you whoever you are, and you to be yielded to me
in defiance of the world!
O to return to Paradise! O bashful and feminine!
O to draw you to me, to plant on you for the first time the lips of
a determin’d man.
O the puzzle, the thrice-tied knot, the deep and dark pool, all
untied and illumin’d!
O to speed where there is space enough and air enough at last!
To be absolv’d from previous ties and conventions, I from mine and
you from yours!
To find a new unthought-of nonchalance with the best of Nature!
To have the gag remov’d from one’s mouth!
To have the feeling to-day or any day I am sufficient as I am.
O something unprov’d! something in a trance!
To escape utterly from others’ anchors and holds!
To drive free! to love free! to dash reckless and dangerous!
To court destruction with taunts, with invitations!
To ascend, to leap to the heavens of the love indicated to me!
To rise thither with my inebriate soul!
To be lost if it must be so!
To feed the remainder of life with one hour of fulness and freedom!
With one brief hour of madness and joy.
July 11, 2012
From Hari Meyers: During the discussion at the end of the Gilgamesh tale, I recited the following poem –
To Be a Slave of Intensity
Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think. . .and think. . .while you are alive.
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death.
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten–
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you
will have the face of satisfied desire.
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!
Kabir says this: When the Guest is being searched for,
it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that
does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
version by Robert Bly
July 11, 2012
Offered by Maurice Wren:
Prescription for the Disillusioned.
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 old,
almost forgotten scent of what-if
drift back into the swamp
of your useless fears.
without the armor of certainty,
without the planned results for the life
Live the life that chooses you,
New with every breath,
New with every blink of
your astonished eyes.
— Rebecca del Rio
The Place Where We Are Right.
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
— Yehuda Amichai.
A Spiritual Journey
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.
— Wendell Berry
July 5, 2012
Offered by Brother Barry Spector:
Dialogue of Self and Soul
A living man is blind and drinks his drop.
What matter if the ditches are impure?
What matter if I live it all once more?
Endure that toil of growing up;
The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
Of boyhood changing into man;
The unfinished man and his pain
Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;
The finished man among his enemies? -
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
And what’s the good of an escape
If honour find him in the wintry blast?
I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
A blind man battering blind men;
Or into that most fecund ditch of all,
The folly that man does
Or must suffer, if he woos
A proud woman not kindred of his soul.
I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.
–William Butler Yeats
July 4, 2012
From Brother Bill: Of course, there were tons of poems and songs laid out at the Slug Clan on Sunday afternoon–all of which are worthy of passing on. Here’s one I laid out by Marge Piercy.
To be of use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
June 30, 2012
From Bill Denham:
Point Reyes—wild oats in the wiindfor JQ
As if it were the holy spirit
as if I even knew
the nature of such a thing,
as if I might even be able to tell you
the mystery of a moment that pushed me
to the very edge of . . . of . . . something,
calling loudly without words for me to simply open up—all the way . . .
We stood together in silence,
in the midst of things,
on the headlands, high above the surf,
a dusty trail beneath our feet
crisscrossed from time to time
by slow moving, shinny black beetles,
while stationery, high above our heads
a hawk lay just beneath the cold gray blanket
that covered everything on this tiny slip of land
sliding northward, sliding always northward.
And everywhere it was wind—
the air moved, ruffled clothes and tousled hair,
made soft staccato pops and flutters in our ears
that almost hid from them
an exquisite, near silent song.
Had we not seen the wild oats dancing,
delicately dangling their tiny, hull-covered seeds,
atop straight golden stalks,
that bent down in the wind,
as if to say, namaste, to everything,
lightly touching one another, then,
like bows and strings—
had we not seen them dancing so,
we would have missed their music,
their heavenly music,
the intricacy of which,
the joy of which
went well beyond
what human hand
or these human words
Oh, the wind and the song of the wild oats!
June 16, 2012
One of the true joys of the Conference is the poetry spoken within the larger container that we create there. Their essence, like the environment we experience as we hear them, tends to seep into and become part of us, and afterwards frequently give rise to a longing to revisit those pieces of poetry that particularly spoke to us.
This posting is the first of a handful that will bring some of those wonderful poems back to be savored again (or newly introduce them), for which we thank the authors and the men who spoke them in that time and place.
The first post is from Brother Bill.
From Bill Denham:
On the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend I was standing in a redwood grove a few miles East of the Mendocino coast line, not far from a beautifully rustic old hall with moss covered roof shingles and a giant stone fireplace and chimney, built by the strong hands and arms and shoulders of WPA and CCC workers in the 1930s and just a few yards away from a beautifully serene pebble beach on the North Fork of the Little Big River, across from which the river had carved away the earth, revealing the roots of a giant redwood tree which stretched to the heavens in the dappled sunlight of late afternoon. Everywhere was huckleberry and redwood sorrel and trilliums and moss and soft humus beneath our feet and giant old growth stumps lying half submerged in the earth or towering like cosmic alters above our heads.
I stood in awe with a friend. Into that space and into our reverent silence he spoke these words I share with you.
Twilight in Hendy Woods
This is the hour of magic
When this world and the other world
Touch in a lingering kiss
And a deep stillness settles over all things.
This is the hour of magic
When the Earth,
For one eternal moment, holds its breath
Before turning from the sun.
This is the hour of magic
When, if you listen
With an open heart and a quiet mind,
You can hear the Ancient Ones, the elders of the forest
Telling the old stories:
Of the chainsaw massacres and the fires;
Of the great ice ages and the birth of mountain ranges;
Of the times long past when they were many and covered the Earth.
They are leaving us now.
When they are gone,
Who will tell these stories?
May 1, 2011
Listen! Listen to this! Can you hear it?
Try speaking it aloud. Take a breath.
Give yourself over to it, even if you are in the presence of someone else. Do not think, “This is an e-mail.” Do not think of all the e-mails waiting to be opened. Do not think of all the pressing obligations that await you, all the things you have not done.
Think instead, “This is a moment for me to accept a gift, a precious gift of words filled with the magic that words sometimes hold.”
Try it. Do it. Do it now . . .
Night and the River
I have seen the great feet
into the river
and I have seen moonlight
along the long muzzle
and I have seen the body
scaled and wonderful
slumped in the sudden fire of its mouth,
and I could not tell
which fit me
more comfortably, the power,
or the powerlessness;
neither would have me
entirely; I was divided,
After a while
it was done,
the fish had vanished, the bear
to the green shore
and into the trees. And then there was only
It followed me home
and entered my house
a difficult guest
with a single
which it hums all day and through the night
slowly or briskly,
it doesn’t matter,
it sounds like a river leaping and falling
it sounds like a body
Mary Oliver from Red Bird, 2008
If you followed my admonition, my heart felt admonition, I cannot presume to know how these words touched you inside but I would wager they touched you in some way–such is the nature and purpose of Mary Oliver’s tremendous outpourings over the years.
- Brother Bill