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Caution: Poetry at Work

May: Working it out

May 25

preservesDuring a visit to a retirement community's memory care unit, I met an elderly resident who periodically recited a prayer. This seemed to have a calming effect; though her recitation had no connection with our conversation, each time she said the familiar words, she seemed to relax. With its sounds, form and function, poetry can indeed bring comfort. Creating a poem can bring the deep and sustaining pleasure of capturing an experience or intimating a revelation.  In this poem, the harvest figure is preparing for winter, where scarcity replaces plenty, trying to store up what will soon be gone, just as a poem can capture a fleeting moment. Whether it is in digging into the soil, or planting lovely blooms, or clearing the brush, or putting up jars for the winter, the work of poetry can please us and challenge us, calm us and keep us on our toes.

Bringing In

Everything else waits
while I gather herbs and plant new bulbs,
pull carrots and onions from the chill ground,
spread straw with cracked hands
over garlic in the raised beds.

The kitchen floor is littered
with bits of leaves and trails of fallen dirt.
An impatient elbow shoves dishes aside
to make space to wash and bundle the parsley and thyme.
Work lies restless, untended on my desk
and laundry mounds its way toward crisis -
But this is harvest time.

I have come to love the snap
of the wind saying the end is near,
the aches in knee joints put to the test
eager soon to rest until next year,
the tables spread with the tangible fruits of a season's growth,
even the massive compost heaps of empty or frost-stopped vines
richly clinging to the last clods of crumbling soil,
vines pulled from the earth in the
unrepentant wisdom of an autumnal soul.
I hang high the rakes and tempered blades,
scour rods and trowels, bent and nicked
from hard use among glacial stones.

Inside I savor the smell of drying lemon balm,
the plump feel of freezer corn and beans,
the tang of tomatoes simmering in all the sun
of so many summer noons.
That sun seeps into the kitchen walls
and rests in all the hidden summer corners
where colanders and barbecue tongs lie still.
That sun is now ground into my finger creases
like the garlic and basil I've crushed and spread.
The dark nights lengthen but harvest fills my cup.
In every warm place I have
I am harboring the sun.

--Karen Lynn Erickson

From Dwellings. © 2013 by Karen Erickson. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Finishing Line Press,

Invitation for your writing:
Thank you for reading and writing with us this year. Look back over the poems that spoke to you and your own writings from the year. We hope you see a rich array of soul-nourishing words that will keep you company and lend you courage, joy, understanding, and tolerance for the mystery and unpredictability of human experience. Do you see themes or images or phrases that recur?

In the coming months, we plan to gather these entries into a form more easily downloaded, in parts or in whole, for use by individuals or groups. We will post a final message to our Facebook page when it is ready. It has been a marvelous adventure sharing this web experiment with you!

May 18

quiltMartin Luther is supposed to have said, "If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I'd plant apple trees today." That bold statement pays homage to humankind's stubborn refusal to abandon hope. We continue to bear and raise children, teach them lessons for their future and the future of the Earth, plant trees whose fruit we may never taste. Martin Luther is also describing poetry, though he may not have realized it. There are certainly some moments in our personal and communal lives that feel like the end of the world, and then poets can only bear witness to tragedy. But poetry can help us resist the seductive voice of despair. We can write poems of difficult hope, facing oppression and suffering, and finding within ourselves and our communities the seedlings of resistance, kindness, and delight. I tried to do that in "Patches."


This is the day that the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be happy today.

Happiness is a crazy quilt stitched every day
from scraps too good to throw away.
We've learned from our mothers' mothers how and why.

They knew we need the warmth of color on long cold nights
whether we lie together or alone.

Not that they thought about it much. No hard-working woman spent her days sewing.
That was for the evening after the cows were milked, the dishes done up,
the bread set to rise, when, by the light of the kerosene lamp
her children did their homework at the table
or someone played an old tune on the harmonica.
Only then did she pull out her needle and patches.

Crazy quilts were made to last, the stitches
tight and even, the fabric sound, the colors still cheerful
though muted by wear and washing and drying in the sun.

So too the quilt of happiness. You end every day piecing together bright scraps-
               the day's first laughter
               the wren weaving her nest of twigs and grass in the end of the clothesline pole
               friendship remembered, sturdy, made of rough cloth.

But as fast as you can set in a new patch, happiness is undone-
                unstitched by the little hands of a child slave
                by loved hands twisted by disease, now rigid and cold
                by hands throwing bombs at peace treaties made and rent in a day
                                the edges frayed by exploding bodies.

Yet this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be happy today.

The choice, my friends, is wrenching but plain:
                surrender to the bitter cold
                or in worn and faithful hands
                take up our needles and patches again.
                                                                                                --Mara Faulkner, OSB

Invitation for your writing:
Try writing a poem of difficult hope.  Here are a few suggestions:
                Create within the poem a place and time of respite.
                Dare to record delight, beauty, kindness, resistance.
                Look for humor and share it. Invite your readers to laugh.
                Show the world in all its vast and glorious and terrible diversity.
                Imagine alternatives to what is and must not be.

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