Poets and Philosophers

Today I saw the most beautiful quote on a Facebook page I follow called Spirit Voyage, which is all about chanting, kundalini yoga and music. It was a quote from a Leonard Cohen song that went as follows: “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I sat in stunned silence for a minute just pondering the beauty of the words. Then, of course, I checked out the full lyrics, which I certainly recommend to you.

Reading the quote made me think about the songwriters who are out there, working not only as talented musicians, but cranking out pure poetry like it’s no big deal. These writers take my breath away. Their poems/songs are so profound, so packed with meaning, so beautiful-it blows my minds that they captured the very essence of emotion so perfectly. You read such poems and you’re like, YES. That is it, exactly.

I feel remiss in my lack of education in the music of Leonard Cohen (my dad loves him but of course I thought that was nerdy when I was younger) as well as Tom Waits. Some time ago I read a Waits song that affected me very deeply. I have included it below, as well as a well-known Cohen song. Finally, I included a Conor Oberst song. I had a hell of a time picking just one, and would encourage anyone who is into songwriters to check him out. He may not be as great as Cohen and Waits, yet, but they have a hell of a head start!

Day After Tomorrow

I got your letter today
And I miss you all so much here
I can’t wait to see you all
And I’m counting the days dear
I still believe that there’s gold
At the end of the world and I’ll
Come home to Illinois on the
Day after tomorrow

Its so hard and its cold here
And I’m tired of taking orders
And I miss old Rockford town
Up by the Wisconsin border
What I miss you won’t believe
Shoveling snow and raking leaves
And my plane will touch down
On the day after tomorrow

I close my eyes every nite
And I dream that I can hold you
They fill us full of lies, everyone buys
Bout what it means to
Be a soldier, I still don’t
Know how I’m supposed to feel bout
All the blood that’s been spilled
Will God on this throne
Get me back home
On the day after tomorrow
You can’t deny, the other side

Don’t want to die anymore
Then we do, what I’m
Trying to say is don’t they pray
To the same God that we do?
And Tell me how does God
Choose, who’s prayers does he
Refuse? who turns the wheel
Who rolls the dice, on the
Day after tomorrow

I’m not fighting for justice
I am not fighting for freedom
I am fighting for my life and
Another day in the world here
I just do what I’ve been told
We’re just the gravel on the road
And only the lucky ones come
Home, on the day after tomorrow

And the summer it too
Will fade and with it
Brings the winter’s frost dear
And I know we too are made
Of all the things that we have
Lost here, I’ll be 21 today
I been saving all my pay
And my plane will touch down
On the day after tomorrow

-Tom Waits


I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah…

-Leonard Cohen

Lenders in the Temple

A short delay, the parrot blues
Little voices mimic you
It’s not so hard to make that sound
So watch your back, the Ides of March
Cut your hair like Joan of Arc
Disguise your will, they’ll find you out
And when they do, look out

There’s money lenders inside the temple
That circus tiger’s going to break your heart
Something so wild turned into paper
If I loved you, well that’s my fault

A bitch in heat, the alpha male
Not something she’d ever tell
Except when she got deathly high
And out it came like summer rain
It washed the cars and everything
Felt clean for just a little while
A telethon we drunk dialed

Those starving children, they ain’t got no mother
There’s pink flamingos living in the mall
I’d give a fortune to your infomercial
If somebody would just take my call
Take my call

Hello, patterns in my mind now moving slow
Sorrow all across the surface rolls
Smoothing out the edges of the stone
The lights are out, where’d everybody go?

Erase yourself and you’ll be free
Mandala destroyed by the sea
All we are is colored sand
So pay to ride the ferris wheel
Smile, all that you can feel
Is gratitude for what has been
Because it did not happen

There’s money lenders inside the temple
That circus tiger’s going to break my heart
Something so wild turned into paper
If you love me, then that’s your fault

There’s money lenders inside the temple
This crystal city’s going to fall apart
When all their power turns into vapor
If I miss you, well that’s my fault

-Conor Oberst


Poetry Sunday: of Grief and Wild Geese

I really like sharing poetry, but have not always found a great forum for it.  Eventually, I’d like to have a poetry group where people get together and share poetry written by others, as well as stuff they’ve written themselves.  The first poem I’ve posted, by Emily Dickinson, is one I identified with very closely for a long time.  The second is one of my own, regarding my grandmother’s death from ovarian cancer in 2005.  It’s pretty heavy, as I was in such a dark place at the time.  The title is a play on my grandmother’s name, Alma, as well as the Dia de las Almas, or All Souls’ Day.  In Latin American cultures this time is often referred to as el Dia de los Muertos, and it is meant to celebrate the departed with crazy festivals and raucous partying.  I am thinking of writing a follow-up to my poem, that will be more celebratory in nature. Below that is a much more gentle and hopeful poem by Mary Oliver.  I have found very comforting her ability to transmute her own pain, including that of the loss of her partner, and continue to create beautiful observations of nature and God.  “Wild Geese” is just about perfect.

I realize I’ve been focusing more on the dark than on the light in the blog recently.  The funny thing is, I feel so much lighter now.  But, just as I’m cleansing myself of inner anger with a 40-day kundalini yoga meditation, I am also cleansing myself of old depression through catharsis.  Spring cleaning my brain, if you will!

I measure every Grief I meet

by Emily Dickinson

I measure every Grief I meet 

With narrow, probing, eyes-

I wonder if It weighs like Mine-

Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long-

Or did it just begin-

I could not tell the Date of Mine-

It feels so old a pain-

I wonder if it hurts to live-

And if They have to try-

And whether-could They choose between-

It would not be-to die-

I note that Some-gone patient long-

At length, renew their smile-

An imitation of a Light

That has so little Oil-

I wonder if when Years have piled-

Some Thousands-on the Harm-

That hurt them early-such a lapse

Could give them any Balm-

Or would they go on aching still

Through Centuries of Nerve-

Enlightened to a larger Pain-

In Contrast with the Love-

The Grieved-are many-I am told-

There is the various Cause-

Death-is but one-and comes but once-

And only nails the eyes-

There’s Grief of Want-and grief of Cold-

A sort they call “Despair”-

There’s Banishment from native Eyes-

In sight of Native Air-

And though I may not guess the kind-

Correctly-yet to me

A piercing Comfort it affords

In passing Calvary

To note the fashions-of the Cross-

And how they’re mostly worn-

Still fascinated to presume-

That Some-are like my own-

el Dia de la Alma

by Kate Curlee

Trussed up in pretty pajamas and diamond earrings,

Your carefully coiffed hair felt flat as your spirit left.

It seeped out in doses, it ebbed away in waves.

My tender goodbyes and lame jokes ceased producing smiles

and left only twitches of slack muscle.

You spoke to us in sighs until there was no breath left.

In the holy church of the dying,

we prayed for the nearly-departed around an altar draped in vestments of hospital sheets.

It was your wake, and I knew the time had come to wish you on your way.


Wild Geese by Mary Oliver You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.


Praising Manners

I’ve decided to post poems that speak to me from time to time. Maybe I will eventually post one of my own, if i can get it into interwebz shape.

This poem is one I’ve loved for years. There is an obvious depression theme that captured my interest. Honestly, I used to think this poem was actually written by Robert Bly, rather than only translated by him. It is no surprise, though, to find that the actual poet was Rumi.

I particularly like the following line: “Inner gifts do not find their way to creatures without just respect.”

To me, this poem is about letting go of self-pity, which is something I have often had far too much of. When I was deep in depression, I simply did not have the wherewithal to praise. However, this poem, even in those dark times, was like a homing beacon, calling me to the present time, when the sun is so much more full of light.


Praising Manners

“We should ask God
To help us towards manners. Inner Gifts
Do not find their way
To creatures without just respect.

If a man or woman flails about, he not only
Smashes his house,
He burns the world down.

Your depression is connected to your insolence
And refusal to praise. If a man or woman is
On the path, and refuses to praise-that man or woman
Steals from others every day-in fact is a shoplifter!

The sun became full of light when it got hold of itself.
Angels began shining when they achieved discipline.

The sun goes out whenever the cloud of not-praising comes near.
The moment that foolish angel felt insolent, he heard the door close.”

-Rumi, as translated by poet Robert Bly