Poetry

aflame

red-winged blackbird-2Photo by Becky Jaffe

 

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

by Wallace Stevens

I

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

The moon is down

As I was fondly ogling my bookshelves a few nights ago it occurred to me that I might rearrange the order of my books to write a poem using each title as one line of verse. I’m sure I’m not the first person to invent this game, nor the first to stay up all night permuting books to write an epic poem about the expulsion of Eve and Adam from Eden and the poignant rise and fall of Homo sapiens.

What follows is my first Book Stack Poem, composed of 164 books. In this version I include main titles only. Tomorrow I will post a version with subtitles and authors for the bibliophiles among you. Enjoy!

 

unusual creatures

 

The moon is down
on this earth
the place that inhabits us

View with a grain of sand
the earth from above
at close range
one day of life

The awakening
everything is illuminated
the living planet
the little school
the earth
the house of mirth

God of dirt
the god of small things
lord of the flies

When clay sings
the song of songs:
genesis
the arrival

Unusual creatures
naked in ashes
the inhabited woman
the man with the beautiful voice
the chosen
beloved on the earth
my family album
welcome to the monkey house

On paradise drive
the exultant ark
the flamingo’s smile
the panda’s thumb
the flight of the iguana
the mind of the raven
anthills of the savannah
hen’s teeth and horse’s toes
fireflies, honey, and silk
owls and other fantasies
1300 real and fanciful animals

Given
the gift of good land
kinship with all life
the eye
sightings
red bird
blue iris
the color purple
the scarlet letter
images of the universe
magical thinking
small wonder

Given
wicked plants
the tree and the vine
the cosmic serpent
a devil’s chaplain
the botany of desire
thirst

Dandelion wine
food of the gods
orchid fever
the body in question
skin
the passion
strange behavior
revelations
monkeyluv
nasty, brutish, and short
loose woman
the happy prince
love in the time of cholera
sex on six legs
animals gone wilder
just one fool thing after another

The sound and the fury
the grapes of wrath
nausea
white noise
blindness
darkness visible
the plague
the flood
the possessed and the dispossessed
the fall

Crime and punishment
apology for wonder
a supposedly fun thing i’ll never do again
i never promised you a rose garden

Falling angels
unbowed
journey from the land of no
west with the night

Refuge
out of africa
cry! the beloved country
long day’s journey into night

Midnight’s children
goatwalking
in search of nature
the way things work,
the where, the why, and the how
what to eat, what to drink, what to leave for poison
the how of happiness
why beauty is truth
a short history of nearly everything

The things they carried:
the book of questions
the book of imaginary beings
the book of qualities
the book of embraces
the book of longing
the illusion of orderly progress

The things they carried:
a pale view of hills
the shadow of the sun
stones from the river
leaves of grass
wild thoughts from wild places
reason for hope
nine parts of desire
20 love poems and a song of despair

Tales of tenderness and power
tales of freedom
walking words
ocean of words
words under words
words of gratitude
human wishes
hard times
war and peace
pride and prejudice
great expectations
shame
atonement
darkness at noon
amazing grace

The good earth
the body
life –
a fine balance:
hope and suffering.

You are not here
i am a stranger here myself
stranger in a strange land
the splendid outcast
nowhere man
comfortable with uncertainty

Don’t get too comfortable
seize the day
the life to come
you must set forth at dawn
this time tomorrow
a thousand mornings
a thousand acres
mountains beyond mountains
man’s search for meaning
infinite jest
what do we know?

The spirit catches you and you fall down
bury me standing
oblivion
notwithstanding

 

 

 

 

The whole referring

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Photo by Becky Jaffe

Miracles

by Walt Whitman


Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet
and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim–the rocks–the motion of the waves–the
ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

It suffices

hummingbird flare-4

Photo by Becky Jaffe

Long Afternoon at the
Edge of Little Sister Pond

As for life,
I’m humbled,
I’m without words
sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,
and soft as a spring pond,
both of these
and over and over,

and long pale afternoons besides,
and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
still unhatched

though warm and watched over
by something I have never seen –
a tree angel, perhaps,
or a ghost of holiness.

Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective.
It suffices, it is all comfort –
along with human love,

dog love, water love, little-serpent love,
sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds
flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about

stopping, and lying down at last
to the long afterlife, to the tenderness
yet to come, when
time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,

and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can’t wait to be the hummingbird,
can you?

~ Mary Oliver ~

rise, ebb, froth

voluptuous contentment

Photo by Becky Jaffe

The Poet Compares Human Nature To The Ocean From Which We Came

by Mary Oliver

The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth,
it can lie down like silk breathing
or toss havoc shoreward; it can give

gifts and withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth
like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can
sweet-talk entirely. As I can too,

and so, no doubt, can you, and you.

Mysteries, Yes

mysteriesyes

Photo by Becky Jaffe

Mysteries, Yes

by Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

“It’s morning, and again I am that lucky person who is in it.”

Hummingbird-2

Photo by Becky Jaffe

The Hummingbird

By Mary Oliver

It’s morning, and again I am that lucky person who is in it.
And again it is spring,
and there are the apple trees,
and the hummingbird in its branches.
On the green wheel of his wings
he hurries from blossom to blossom,
which is his work, that he might live.

He is a gatherer of the fine honey of promise,
and truly I go in envy
of the ruby fire at his throat,
and his accurate, quick tongue,
and his single-mindedness.

Meanwhile the knives of ambition are stirring
down there in the darkness behind my eyes,
and I should go inside now to my desk and my pages.
But still I stand under the trees, happy and desolate,
wanting for myself such a satisfying coat
and brilliant work.

what would do?

chaos and grace II

Photo by Becky Jaffe

And, if you have not  been enchanted by

this adventure —

your life —

what would do for you?

– Mary Oliver

Excerpt from To Begin With, the Sweet Grass

small, available things

hummingbird

Photo by Becky Jaffe

Summer Story

by Mary Oliver

When the hummingbird
sinks its face
into the trumpet vine,
into the funnels

of the blossoms
and the tongue
leaps out
and throbs,

I am scorched
to realize once again
how many small, available things
are in this world

that aren’t
pieces of gold
or power——-
that nobody owns

or could but even
for a hillside of money—–
that just float
in the world,

or drift over the fields,
or into the gardens,
and into the tents of the vines,
and now here I am

spending my time,
as the saying goes,
watching until the watching turns into feeling,
so that I feel I am myself

a small bird with a terrible hunger,
with a thin beak probing and dipping
and a heart that races so fast

it is only a heart beat ahead of breaking——
and I am the hunger and the assuagement,
and also I am the leaves and the blossoms,
and, like them, I am full of delight, and shaking.

There is a place you can go

lake tahoe

Buoyed Blues by Becky Jaffe

Excerpt from Sabbaths 1998 poem VI

by Wendell Berry

There is a place you can go
where you are quiet,
a place of water and the light

on the water. Trees are there,
leaves, and the light
on leaves moved by air.

Birds, singing, move
among leaves, in leaf shadow.
After many years you have come

to no thought of these,
but they are themselves
your thoughts. There seems to be

little to say, less and less.
Here they are. Here you are.

better than to know

little birds

Photo by Becky Jaffe

 

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

–ee cummings

Transience

Transients

Photo by Becky Jaffe

 

Transients

by Deborah Gordon Cooper

 
We are just passing through
these bones,
the way this wind
inhabits the ravine,
the way this light, in its
allotted time, illuminates
the hollow.

We are just passing through
these bones,
folding and opening
these limbs.

We work these hands,
making our sandwiches
and love;
look out at one another
from these faces,
watch a raven
trace the sky.

Long live the weeds

long live the weeds

 

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Excerpt from Inversnaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Reflections

Avocet Duet_
Avocet Duet by Becky Jaffe

Two of my bird photographs swooped into the 1650 Gallery’s exhibit on the theme of Reflections: the Visual Echo. Please join me for the opening reception on Saturday night, November 16th from 7:30 to 10:30 pm at 1650 Echo Park Ave in Los Angeles. For the full exhibit, see: http://www.1650gallery.com/reflections2013_exhibition.php

A wonderful poem on the theme of Reflections is John Holland’s 1969 poem Swan and Shadow. Enjoy!

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morning poem

Photo by Becky Jaffe

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Praise

Praise-3

Photo: Praise by Becky Jaffe

 

Just to be is a blessing.
Just to live is holy.

—  Abraham Joshua Heschel

Being Human

thinker combo

Photo: Thinking Blues by Becky Jaffe

 

BEING HUMAN
by Naima of Climbing Poetree

I wonder if the sun debates dawn
some mornings
not wanting to rise
out of bed
from under the down-feather horizon

If the sky grows tired
of being everywhere at once
adapting to the mood swings of the weather

If the clouds drift off
trying to hold themselves together
make deals with gravity
to loiter a little longer

I wonder if rain is scared
of falling
if it has trouble letting go

If snow flakes get sick
of being perfect all the time
each one trying to be one-of-a-kind

I wonder if stars wish
upon themselves before the die
if they need to teach their young to shine

I wonder if shadows long
to once feel the sun
if they get lost in the shuffle
not knowing where they’re from

I wonder if sunrise and sunset
respect each other
even though they’ve never met

If volcanoes get stressed
If storms have regrets
If compost believes in life after death

I wonder if breath ever thinks
about suicide
I wonder if the wind just wants to sit
still sometimes
and watch the world pass by

If smoke was born knowing how to rise
If rainbows get shy back stage
not sure if their colors match right

I wonder if lightning sets an alarm clock
to know when to crack
If rivers ever stop
and think of turning back

If streams meet the wrong sea
and their whole lives run off-track
I wonder if the snow wants to be black

If the soil thinks she’s too dark
If butterflies want to cover up their marks
If rocks are self-conscious of their weight
If mountains are insecure of their strength

I wonder if waves get discouraged
crawling up the sand
only to be pulled back again
to where they began

I wonder if land feels stepped upon
If sand feels insignificant
If trees need to question their lovers
to know where they stand

If branches waver in the crossroads
unsure of which way to grow
If the leaves understand they’re replaceable
and still dance when the wind blows

I wonder where the moon goes
when she is hiding
I want to find her there
and watch the ocean
spin from a distance
Listen to her
stir in her sleep

effort give way to existence

 

How to be a poet

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Photo: No Child Left Inside by Becky Jaffe

How To Be a Poet

By Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)

i
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
ii
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
iii
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

 

If you are a poetry teacher, Nature in Vision & Verse is a great resource for lesson planning. I am available for guest presentations in schools on nature photography and nature poetry. Please contact me if you would like me to present in your classroom.

But Praise

Heron

Photo: Juvenile Night Heron by Becky Jaffe

 

White Heron

by John Ciardi

What lifts the heron leaning on the air
I praise without a name. A crouch, a flare,
a long stroke through the cumulus of trees,
a shaped thought at the sky–then gone. O rare!
Saint Francis, being happiest on his knees,
would have cried Father! Cry anything you please

But praise. By any name or none. But praise
the white original burst that lights
the heron on his two soft kissing kites.
When saints praise heaven lit by doves and rays,
I sit by pond scums till the air recites
Its heron back. And doubt all else. But praise.

 

from Sam Keen’s  beautifully written book of essays on the spiritual lessons learned by bird watching, Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds.

Your very flesh shall be a great poem

beautifullypregnant

Photo: Momma’s Gotta Dance by Becky Jaffe

 

“This is what you shall do:
love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches, give alms to every one that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence towards the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons,
and with the young,and with the mothers of families,
read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school, or church, or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
and your very flesh shall be a great poem,
and have the richest fluency, not only in its words,
but in the silent lines of its lips and face,
and between the lashes of your eyes,
and in every motion and joint of your body.”

Walt Whitman

 

Welcome to the world, Niko Renollet!

Isn’t one of your prissy richpeople’s swans

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For Mary Oliver by Becky Jaffe

The Swan at Edgewater Park

by Ruth L. Schwartz

Isn’t one of your prissy richpeoples’ swans
Wouldn’t be at home on some pristine pond
Chooses the whole stinking shoreline, candy wrappers, condoms in its tidal fringe
Prefers to curve its muscular, slightly grubby neck into the body of a Great Lake,
Swilling whatever it is swans swill,
Chardonnay of algae with bouquet of crud,
While Clevelanders walk by saying Look at that big duck!
Beauty isn’t the point here; of course the swan is beautiful,
But not like Lorie at 16, when
Everything was possible—no
More like Lorie at 27
Smoking away her days off in her dirty kitchen,
Her kid with asthma watching TV,
The boyfriend who doesn’t know yet she’s gonna
Leave him, washing his car out back—and
He’s a runty little guy, and drinks too much, and
It’s not his kid anyway, but he loves her, he
Really does, he loves them both—
That’s the kind of swan this is.

 

This is just one of the gems gracing the pages of the wonderful collection of poems about birds called Bright Wings.

Praise

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Reeftip by Becky Jaffe

 

We asked the captain what course
of action he proposed to take toward
a beast so large, terrifying, and
unpredictable. He hesitated to
answer, and then said judiciously:
“I think I shall praise it.”

– Robert Hass

Newt Haiku

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Photo and musings by Becky Jaffe

 

On one of the first unmistakable days of Spring, I led a group of five six-year-olds on a walk through the UC Botanical Garden, where I am a docent. I say “walk,” but children at that age do anything but: they skip, bound, trip, jostle, spin, and vibrate in a sort of Brownian motion, but rarely walk. On this first morning of emboldening sunlight and tentative short sleeves, my group was particularly kinetic, their effervescence reaching a feverish pitch when we arrived at the Japanese pool and found the newts in a similar frenzy. Pairs of newts gripped each other in slippery contortions, splashy displays that incited the childrens’ curiosity. Lone newts trailed after mating pairs, latching on to a tail and rolling into a tan-and-yellow tangle of three- four- and five-newt bundles. One of the children asked, “What is that brown knot?” The adult chaperones tittered. Since Spring has inspired haiku for centuries, I offer this reply, in haiku form.

What is that brown knot?
The newts are dancing, children,
celebrating Spring.

What is that brown knot?
The newts are wrestling, children,
That’s how life begins.

What is that brown knot?
A miracle of nature,
one more mystery.

What is that brown knot?
The newts are in love, children,
euphemistically.

What is that brown knot?
A good old-fashioned tussle,
a frenzy, a fray.

What is that brown knot?
Survival of the fittest,
Shuffling DNA.

What is that brown knot?
An amphibian orgy,
It’s rude, kids, to stare.

What is that brown knot?
Sexual reproduction.
Ask that docent there.

Rife Field

rifefield

Invitation
by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

— from Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver

Thanksgiving IV

geese-moon

Photo: Thanksgiving IV by Becky Jaffe
Wild Geese
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.
~ Mary Oliver ~
(Dream Work)