Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Ten years ago I taped my first poem (Mark Strand’s “The Coming of Light”) to a yellow post in a parking lot. My heart was racing as if I had done something transgressive. But I was also happy, pleased as punch, giddy. Who would find the poem? What would they think? Would the poem help them, heal them, lighten their load, brighten their day, irritate, unnerve or challenge them? Three hundred some poems later, those questions and that giddiness are still there every time I leave a poem for someone to find.


This month I’m delighted to share that experience with you, dear readers. Responses are coming in to my Ten Year Collaboration Project (yes, the official name keeps changing, gotta figure that one out).  I’ll post readers’ contributions every other day till I run out.


NOTE: send your pictures (one close-up, one context) and commentary (if you want) to thepoemelf@gmail.com. I’d love to get more than I can post in one month!


Here we go.


We begin with Sharon from Greeley, Colorado. I love her selections—Mary Oliver, Anne Porter, both spiritual wise women and great, great poets. Years ago I copied the Anne Porter poem/prayer on cardstock and sent to my kids. “A Short Testament” is absolutely the perfect poem for this time of quarantine.


I’m wasn’t familiar with Louis Simpson and I’m very glad to be introduced. (FYI, Simpson was b.1923, d. 2012.)


Sharon writes at the end of her post, “For me, poetry is kindness.” I love that. Thank you, Sharon, for your wonderful choices and commentary. (What follows is direct from Sharon)



I took the photos in various areas around Glenmere Lake in Greeley, Colorado. (Staying within COVID19 mandatory parameters!!)


I chose the Mary Oliver poem to encourage whoever found it, to write. Across the street on the west side of the lake is someone’s personal garden which made for a natural venue.



“A Short Testament” I posted on a bench overlooking the lake. I thought it represented how many of us feel under mandatory quarantine—we have time to reflect on our lives and the poem offers language to heal.


A Short Testament

by Anne Porter


Whatever harm I may have done

In all my life in all your wide creation

If I cannot repair it

I beg you to repair it,


And then there are all the wounded

The poor the deaf the lonely and the old

Whom I have roughly dismissed

As if I were not one of them.

Where I have wronged them by it

And cannot make amends

I ask you

To comfort them to overflowing,


And where there are lives I may have withered around me,

Or lives of strangers far or near

That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,

And if I cannot find them

Or have no way to serve them,


Remember them. I beg you to remember them


When winter is over

And all your unimaginable promises

Burst into song on death’s bare branches.




“As Birds are Fitted to the Bough” I posted on the trunk of just-beginning-to-blossom crabapple tree boughs. It was a windy spring day when I secured it behind loose bark. The poem spoke to me during quarantine as I worked, rewriting on some personal poems.


As Birds Are Fitted to the Boughs

by Louis Simpson


As birds are fitted to the boughs

That blossom on the tree

And whisper when the south wind blows—

So was my love to me.


And still she blossoms in my mind

And whispers softly, though

The clouds are fitted to the wind,

The wind is to the snow.



A friend who found out I was doing this for your site said “I wish I was lucky enough to be walking around the lake and find these.” People have shown such kindness around the lake during the quarantine—they’ve put out tables of dog biscuits for furry friends, water for walkers, masks for the letter carriers, they’ve made sidewalk chalk inspirations of visual and word art. Now poetry has been added to the mix! I figure since the quarantine is mandatory for us, it’s what we do with it that really matters. For me, poetry is kindness. I want the world to know and feel the healing effects of words/language.


The poem I didn’t yet find a venue for is called “Hoses” by George Bilgere. Again, reflective of life in simpler times. Will we ever again hear the peels of childish laughter ring out as kids run through sprinklers? When will that laughter return? And in the meantime, what’s going on in the lives of children and adults under stay at home orders?




by George Bilgere


I love the hoses of summer

hanging in their green coils

from the sides of houses,

or slithering through lawns

on their way to the cool

meditations of sprinklers.


I think of my father, scotch

in one hand, the dripping hose

in the other, probing the dusk

with water, the world

around him falling apart,

marriage crumbling, booze

running the show.

Still, he liked to walk out

after dinner and water the lawn,

fiddling with the nozzle,

misting this, showering that.


Sometimes, in the hot twilight,

my sisters and I would run

in our swimsuits through the yard

while he followed us

with a cold beam of water.


And once, when my mother

came out to watch, he turned

the hose on her, the two of them

laughing in a way we’d never heard,

a laughter that must have brought them

back to the beginning.


Thanks for your “assignment.” It offered me an opportunity to be creative and to smile as I went about my task.






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poem is on narrow tree just above the white arrow


by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

The first task I set myself when trying to penetrate this poem (oh dear—a disturbing image–sounds like I keep a sex toy by my bookshelf) was to Google “blue iris.”  Did it have a symbolic meaning or cultural significance that I was unaware of? No, but I discovered it sure is a popular name for spas, paint colors and cafes.  The significance of the blue iris in this poem is simply that it’s a spectacular, Grand-Canyon-kind of flower, and looking at it could lead to an awe-filled experience of the Sublime such as the Romantic poets were fond of.


That kind of lofty emotion, Oliver says, does not have to be the starting point of prayer.   It’s interesting that her own starting point is a negative statement.  Sometimes it’s easier to define a complex idea by stating what it’s not: love is not jealous, or love is not all, as Edna St. Vincent Millay would say (who is relevant to this discussion, as you’ll see shortly).


In the second stanza Oliver employs two more negatives:  “don’t try” and “this isn’t.”  A pattern emerges underneath the seeming loose construction of the poem.  The three negative statements fall in the first two stanzas of the poem; the third holds only positive statements. The negative sets a tone of unease, of struggle. To enter in a prayerful state, the stillness and divine presence described in the third stanza, requires letting go, whittling away extraneous experience such as feelings of inadequacy or competition.  Oliver whittles away in a very mathematical fashion:  the first stanza has five lines, the second three, and the third, two.  A tidy little subtraction problem for the work of beginning a prayer.


The invisible structure of the poem is evident too in the last words of each of the first two stanzas. (I know from reading Oliver’s very helpful book on poetry that last words of lines have special import.) The word “patch” bridges the first two stanzas and recalls, even as it’s used as a verb, the weeds she studies.  And the word “doorway” is just that—a doorway into the gratitude of the third stanza, into prayer itself.


Gratitude is at the root of all major religions, and so it’s no wonder this poem can be found on blogs by Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Jews.  And Unitarians, of course.  The importance of gratitude may be today’s version of Kumbaya or have-a-nice-day-namaste, easy to dismiss as overused hokum, but, really, do you know any happy people who don’t radiate a spirit of gratitude, of wonderment?   Oliver seems to be a happy lady herself as is clear in her poem, “When Death Comes”:


When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


Mary Oliver was born in Ohio in 1935.  As a teenager she made a pilgrimage to the upstate New York home of Edna St. Vincent Millay.  She ended up living on Millay’s estate with Millay’s sister on and off for years. Millay was an early influence on Oliver (and you can read Oliver’s tribute to her predecessor here).  When I began writing this post, I would never have connected the two poets:  one is so formal, the other unpretentious and conversational.  (Listen here to Oliver’s plain-speaking recitation of a poem and compare it to Millay’s affected delivery.)  But now I see connections abound:  both are passionate lovers of nature, winners of Pulitzer Prizes, and are more popular with the public than with literary critics.


At the Millay house Oliver met photographer Molly Malone Cook, who was to become her partner of 40 years. (Six degrees of separation moment:  Cook was a close friend of filmmaker John Waters, who is the cousin of a good friend of my husband’s in high school, a boy I once kissed and who later told my husband he shouldn’t date me because I was too quiet.  Down, bitter girl, down.)


On a hike with some friends, feeling very grateful indeed for November sunshine and temps in the 60s, I taped the poem to a tree for the next hiker to find. I felt a little like a mother hiding holy cards in her grown children’s luggage.




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