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Archive for the ‘Rumi’ Category

The final two poems of commemorating the last moments of George Floyd’s life will shift from poems of protest to poems of solidarity.

 

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Day eight, minute eight. We are near the end. He lays silent and still in the street. He is alone, he is in this moment friendless, he has no one to hold his hand or comfort him or gaze upon him with love as he breathes his last. It is a horror.

 

*

 

 

Only Breath

by Rumi

 

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu

Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

 

or cultural system. I am not from the East

or the West, not out of the ocean or up

 

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not

composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

 

am not an entity in this world or in the next,

did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

 

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace

of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

 

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two

worlds as one and that one call to and know,

 

first, last, outer, inner, only that

breath breathing human being.

 

 

 

I’m drawn to this poem more than I really understand it. There’s balm here, a resting spot to breathe calmly as we take in a world where a black man, as so many before him, was denied the right to breathe, who begged another man to let him breathe.

 

In this time of division, with so many people aching to rid the world of division and the injustice and pain division brings, Rumi wipes the slate clean. There is a reality beyond division, he says. Beyond the division of religion and country of origin. He just as easily could be talking about divisions of ethnicity, skin tone, political party, social class.

 

This reality exists even beyond the divisions between species and between beings from this world and the next.

 

It’s the reality of being beloved. Of existing in a state of being loved.

 

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two

worlds as one

 

We are the beloved, all of us, and every last atom of creation. And if you don’t believe in a loving creative entity, there is still the fact of love itself, the fact that it has always existed and always will, the miracle of it, the power of it.

 

I stop here with the poem because I can’t understand the last lines about the breath and I keep hearing John Donne in my ear—

 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

 

Emphasis mine. Going to repeat it.

 

any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

 

*

 

A biography of Rumi from a previous post:

Rumi, born to a wealthy family in 1207, eventually settled in modern day Turkey.  He wrote over 70,000 verses in 25 years or, as I figure, about 7 ½ poems every day.  A religious figure, he is considered a Muslim saint.  His staying power comes not only from the beauty and emotional expressiveness of his poems, but his teachings of tolerance and peace.  He’s such towering figure of interfaith unity that Pope John XXIII was moved to say in 1958, “In the name of the Catholic World, I bow with respect before the memory of Rumi.”

 

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Today, a treat. Tom McGrath, longtime Chicago editor, writer, and spiritual director, donned the Poem Elf hat and set to work on a Rumi poem, “Has Anyone Seen the Boy?” The poem, his reflections on the poem, the poem placement, his reasons for the placement—it’s all great and worth the few minutes it will take you to read it because it will stay with you all week. What’s especially wonderful for readers of Poem Elf is the male perspective. That’s something I just can’t offer. Many thanks to Tom for sharing his musings and wisdom.

 

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HAS ANYONE SEEN THE BOY?

 

Has anyone seen the boy who used to come here?

Round-faced troublemaker, quick to find a joke,

slow to be serious, red shirt

perfect coordination, sly, strong muscled,

with things always in his pockets, reed flute,

worn pick, polished and ready for his talent,

you know that one.

Have you heard stories about him?

Pharoah and the whole Egyptian world

collapsed for such a Joseph.

I would gladly spend years getting word

of him, even third or fourth hand.

 —RUMI 

                                                (version by Coleman Barks and John Moyne)

 

 

Missing? by Tom McGrath, Assistant to the Poem Elf

 

Rumi is a trickster who packs a playful punch in every poem, always to a serious end. I usually discover something of value in his work, yet I am also aware there are vast horizons of meaning I only see as if “through a glass darkly.” I can’t say “Has Anyone Seen The Boy?” is my favorite Rumi poem, but it’s the one that comes to mind most often, especially when I see bitter, beaten-down men with only the light of anger in their eyes. I believe Rumi was urging men, especially, to seek the youthful lad they were, in all his pure potential, because his value to them is far beyond gold.

 

I first discovered this poem around the time my father was between bouts with cancer. A long-lost friend of his from high school called him one day from out of the blue. “I’ve been thinking of you, Pat,” said Don. And that began a weekly long conversation in which the two would reminisce about what they called their “glory days,” when Dad was a basketball hero and Don was the team manager and a budding entrepreneur who went on to a number of big jobs with professional basketball teams. I’d hear Dad laughing and was so grateful for how these conversations brought him back to life again—full of energy, radiance, and joy. I was reminded of the words of my friend Sr. Kathy Bertrand, SSND, who would advise fellow nuns who felt they’d lost their vocation to “remember the dreams of your younger years.” Kathy knew that drinking deeply from the wellspring of memory could re-ignite their passion for life—their own precious and wonderful life—and lead them not backward, but onward to a better future to which their heart was calling them.

 

For his birthday that year, I took my father on a day trip to visit his friend Don up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. They let me sit in on their lively lunch conversation that went on for hours. On the way home, Dad told me, “That was the best day of my life!” I knew there were many best days in my father’s life, some far better even than that visit. But I knew what he meant. He’d not just paid a visit to Don, but also to the boy who had such dreams and who now could realize so many had come true. That night I mailed Dad and Don a copy of this poem. Neither man mentioned a thing to me about it and I’m sure they wondered “Who is this Rumi fella and why did Tom give me this?” But it was the best to express the joyful mystery I had witnessed that day.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

I chose to tape this to the brick wall of our parish gym where, decades ago, a group of young boys played “fast pitch” just about every day each summer. The game was ideal for urban kids. It could accommodate from three to a dozen or more players. Equipment needs were simple: a 9” rubber ball, a bat, and enough baseball mitts for half the players. Sometimes one of the dads would come join the fun and quell the endless arguments over fair or foul, ball or strike, but otherwise the boys were on their own.

When I was working in my back yard I could hear the sound of the ball smashing against the wall and knew a game had started. In time I could even tell when a batter had connected with the pitch and if it was a ground ball only good for a single, a screaming line-drive double, or a homerun wallop that travelled clear across the church parking lot to hit the side of the school building.

 

Then one summer they were gone. The outline of the strike zone remains all these years later, and, sentimental romantic that I am, I keep hope some summer I will hear the sound of the ball slapping against the brick wall again, only to find one of the original players has brought his kids to visit the field of memory their dad has told them so much about. Don’t lose sight of the boy!

 

 

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In Hawaii for another Valentine’s Day—always a good spot for celebrating love, inspiring love and meditating on love. When I’m here my heart nearly bursts open with love for all creation.

 

Yeah, yeah, pretty easy when I’m this far away from routine, news, and winter weather. Regardless, sending love to you, dear readers, and to all my Valentines across the Pacific (and to one across the Atlantic).

 

On with the poem blitzing then:

 

I taped “Some Kiss We Want” by 13th century Persian poet Rumi to a piece of grass at a favorite overlook of mine. Every time I drive by I say, “It never gets old,” and so with a kiss, and so with our human yearning for love.

 

No one marries the spiritual with the physical like Rumi. Just look how he connects the mouth to that union in the last stanza. The mouth brings in breath and spirit, speaks words of love and is rather handy in the act of love itself:

Breath into me. Close

the language-door and open the love-window.

 

 

For a more prosaic but no less love-happy treatment of love, I left British poet Wendy Cope’s “The Orange” in a stack of grocery store (wait for it) oranges.

 

What a wonderful description she gives of being newly in love, how it makes you newly in love with every old thing you never paid attention to before:

And that orange, it made me so happy,

As ordinary things often do

Just lately.

 

I asked my friends, a long-married couple, to be in a picture with an excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe’s “To One in Paradise” while we waited at the airport to move from one Hawaiian isle to another. They wisely questioned the appropriateness of an Edgar Allen Poe poem for a non-Halloween holiday, but were good sports in posing with it.

poem is on window between the smoochers

 

The poem is (unsurprisingly) about a dead lover. But let’s just pretend that the loved one in the poem’s heavenly paradise is a loved one here on the earthly paradise of Hawaii. Then we can enjoy the romance of the beautiful lines and not feel like we’re dragging a decomposing corpse from the crypt to the bedroom.

 

The poem is hard to read in my picture, so I’ll type out the words:

And all my days are trances,

      And all my nightly dreams

Are where thy grey eye glances

     And where thy footstep gleams—

In what ethereal dances,

     By what eternal streams.

 

Speaking of morbid attachments, I do love a good cemetery and was happy to find an unmarked one off a dirt road where I could leave “Love Song” by poet Nancy Wood (1936-2013).

poem is on fence-post in foreground

 

For anyone who’s lost their life’s love, this is for you:

. . . Our holy place is holy still;

     our love is not diminished by absence or by pain.

 

There’s a  high surf warning today on the north shore of Kauai, so it’s a good time to leave “Sonnet LXXV” by Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) on the beach, to fulfill its promise of being washed away.

 

Not to be a sourpuss in the candy jar, but it’s funny that for all the flowery promises to make his lover’s name immortal and her virtues rare eternal, Spenser never does mention her name or describe what those virtues are. Seems to me what he really wanted written in the heavens was his poem. Success!

 

For those who haven’t yet found the lover to write their names in the sand much less follow through on a Bumble date, Maya Angelou offers encouragement in this excerpt from “In My Missouri.” I taped it to a telephone pole outside one of the only late-night spots in Hanalei, the famous Tahiti Nuit. (Famous for The Descendants fans, I mean.)

 

The poem begins with the bad men she’s encountered, the mean, cold and hard men. Then she writes, and I love this, I love this for all those who are still looking and need hope—

So I thought I’d never meet a sweet man

A kind man

A true man

One who in darkness you can feel secure man

A sure man

A man.

 

For my own man, my own sure man, I crumpled up Ted Kooser’s “Pocket Poem” and stuck it in his shorts.

 

My husband is notorious for crumpling his scorecard in our euchre group (much to the annoyance of the scorekeeper) so Kooser’s poem is just right. And also these lines, which I feel even now, thirty-two years on (forty if you include the teenage dating years)—

. . . I want to be so close

that when you find it, it is warm from me.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Across the isles and across the aisles, let’s love!

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My niece and goddaughter got married last weekend in Maryland.  It was a great occasion to celebrate with my family (70 and counting), and a great occasion for poem elfing.

 

 

There’s no poem hidden in this picture but I do think I captured one in her expression. Look how she grips her father as she walks down the aisle towards her beloved with such transparent joy.  She can hardly hold it all in.  If I could have placed a poem on her person it would be this, from an unknown Chinese poet:

If I were a tree or a plant

I would feel the soft influence of spring.

Since I am a man . . .

Do not be astonished at my joy.

 

But I did manage to hide a few poems over the weekend.  I tied a Rumi poem to the bouquet Tricia used for rehearsal:

 

 

You can’t go wrong with Rumi for a wedding.

 

 

Tricia was a very happy bride, dancing and laughing all night, but at no point did she reach the “disgraceful” or “crazy” stage.  Neither did Poem Elf, I’ll have you know.   Still the poem’s a useful reminder to switch gears from planning to  celebrating.

 

Tricia didn’t notice the dangling poem until I pointed it out.

 

I planted another poem in the office of the father of the bride, my brother Donnie.

 

poem is taped to phone in foreground

 

I found “The Giving” in a collection of poems by someone named Max Ellison in a used bookstore in northern Michigan last summer.

 

 

I’ll reprint the words because I’m sure someone searching on “wedding poem” will want to copy them:

 

The Giving

by Max Ellison

 

Who give this woman to be wed?

Her mother and I.

We gave her dawn.

We gave her grace.

We stamped our image

On her face.

We gave her books,

And through the years

We calmed her early

Childhood fears.

We gave her faith.

We gave her prayer.

She walked our road.

She climbed our stairs.

And now in solemn troth

We swear,

We can not give.

We only share.

 

I love this poem.  At first I had reservations about the whole idea of “giving” a woman to a man or “sharing” her, but in the face of such loving fatherly sentiments, those reservations be darned.  This poem is just flat-out sweet and true.  We are each of us a gift to the world.

 

Poet Max Ellison was less obscure than I originally thought.   Well-known in his hometown of Bellaire, Michigan, he sold his books on street corners, spoke at Governor Milliken’s inauguration, and may have been—although I can’t confirm—the poet laureate of Michigan. He lived simply in a house he built called “Frog Holler,”  which had no running water or electricity.  His poetry is also simple, in the best sense:  clean and straightforward and honest.  No frippery.

 

In the goody bags for the out-of-town guests staying at the hotel, I left Dante’s “La Vita Nuova.”

 

 

I’ve already written about this poem, so I’ll include the link, post the picture and not say one more word about it:

 

Poem Elf got fancy with vellum and ribbon

 

Finally I included this poem (or excerpt from a poem) with the newlyweds’ wedding gift, a lamp.  I forgot to take a picture of the actual lamp with the poem, so I put another copy in my front window:

 

 

The poem provides an answer to the question Rodgers and Hammerstein posed in Cinderella:

Do I love you because

you’re beautiful

or are you beautiful

because I love you?

 

I can’t find a thing on the poet, Fulvia Lupulo, except that’s she’s Mexican.  Tricia’s husband is also of Mexican descent, so I hope this poem finds a special place in his heart.

 

And here’s the bridegroom himself, with my mother at the rehearsal dinner:

 

 

I can’t resist including two more pictures of my mother at the wedding.  First, dancing with one of her grandsons:

 

 

And then surprised by her grandsons’ Zou Bisou Bisou:

 

 

Ain’t love grand?

 

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poem is on lower left window pane

 

This Marriage – Ode 2667

by Rumi

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.

May it be sweet milk,

this marriage, like wine and halvah.

May this marriage offer fruit and shade

like the date palm.

May this marriage be full of laughter,

our every day a day in paradise.

May this marriage be a sign of compassion,

a seal of happiness here and hereafter.

May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,

an omen as welcome

as the moon in a clear blue sky.

I am out of words to describe

how spirit mingles in this marriage.

 

 

A very urban, very cool San Diego couple weds on a farm in Minnesota and Poem Elf is invited.  The question isn’t so much what to wear (wedges and flats for all, fascinators and Stingy Bogarts for hipsters only), but what poem to bring.  Weeks earlier on a whim I had sent a poem to the groom, my nephew.  “I didn’t get it,” was his polite way of saying “Thanks, but no thanks.”  (I’ll post on that next week.)  So I thought I’d play it safe with something by Rumi.

 

Rumi, a 13th century poet virtually unknown in this country 20 years ago and now the most popular poet in America (sorry, Billy Collins), is a poet I have avoided until recently when he was listed on cultural critic Dean Radar’s list of the top ten poets of all time.  I’ve been wary of him because he’s a little too unstructured for my taste and overly emotional, which made me wonder how serious a poet he was, and besides, I resented the shelf space he’s given in the poetry sections of most bookstores.

 

But as usual, the more time I spend with a poem, the more I like it; and the more I think about the connection between poem and location, the more reasons I find for the match.  So in spite of the fact that Rumi was a practicing Sufi (a mystical branch of Islam) born in what is now modern day Afghanistan, and this was a 21st century wedding in America’s heartland officiated by a minister, the poem and the wedding share common ground.  For one thing, “This Marriage” uses images from the earth to bless and describe a new marriage, which makes it an appropriate choice for a wedding that made much use of natural settings.  The ceremony was held outside, the guitarist sat on a haystack, the floor of the dining tent was grass, and the backdrop for every picture was rolling hills and country roads.

 

The poem quietly moves from day (the shade of the date palm is presumably from the sun) to night, just as the wedding floated from cocktails in the late afternoon to late-night dancing upstairs in a barn fitted with large windows that looked out on moonlit fields.

 

In Rumi’s poem the groom blesses his own marriage.  He slips from the impersonal this marriage to the more intimate our. Then he reverts to this marriage, as if it were someone else’s marriage, until emotion seems to overtake him and he opens up to I in the last few lines.  At the Minnesota ceremony, the rings were passed from guest to guest to be blessed, and when at last they reached the minister, the bride and groom exchanged vows, very tender expressions of love and commitment.  The moment was so intimate that I had the sense of the couple being torn open from stem to stern for all of us to gape and gawk at their interiors.

 

Right after the ceremony I had a lovely moment with my nephew.  He was sitting alone on a bench while his new wife was occupied with bridesmaids and the photographer.  “Come over,” he called to me. I was pleasantly surprised and flattered that he wanted my company but also touched in my auntily fashion at his demeanor.  He looked stunned.  Clearly he was still processing what just happened.

 

Of all the unforgettable moments of the day, the vision of him sitting on the whitewashed bench stands out.  A man overwhelmed by love.

 

In our brief time before the photographer (who we later found out was an excellent dancer) called him away, we discussed how he had publicly declared the deepest, most intimate feelings a man could have, and the joy he felt in doing so.  “I almost have a headache from feeling so much happiness,” he told me.

 

That’s exactly what happens at the end of this poem.  After twelve lines rhapsodizing about the marriage, the poet is overwhelmed by love and is rendered speechless:

I am out of words to describe

how spirit mingles in this marriage

 

It’s very different from the “Song of Songs,” which speaks more about the body and physical desires.  “This Marriage” is all about spirit, and (like the “Song of Songs”) may be an allegory for union with the divine.

 

If my favorite image of the wedding is of my nephew dazed on the bench, my favorite image in this poem is that of the date palm:

May this marriage offer fruit and shade

like the date palm

 

I love that, fruit and shade:  marriage as a refuge from heat, and as a source of sweetness and nutrition.  Fruit, of course, is also an image of fertility and abundance, an idea suggested earlier in the poem by sweet milk.

 

Rumi, born to a wealthy family in 1207, eventually settled in modern day Turkey.  He wrote over 70,000 verses in 25 years or, as I figure, about 7 ½ poems every day.  A religious figure, he is considered a Muslim saint.  His staying power comes not only from the beauty and emotional expressiveness of his poems, but his teachings of tolerance and peace.  He’s such towering figure of interfaith unity that Pope John XXIII was moved to say in 1958, “In the name of the Catholic World, I bow with respect before the memory of Rumi.”

 

A pretty good omen for the joining of two people, that Rumi.  Or in Rumi’s own words,

an omen as welcome

as the moon in a clear blue sky

 

which is exactly what I saw when at the end of the night I left the barn and looked up to take in the view.

Poem Elf's turn to bless

 

Fyi:  Halvah is a middle-eastern sweet.  Sweet milk means milk unsoured, or in other words, fresh milk.  

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