Each year I make a hobby during graduation season (May/June) of paying attention to college commencement speeches. We’ve covered quite a few here on Mbird over the years. It’s a rhetorical phenomenon that sheds light on philosophies of the world that are either long on law or lame optimism about human potential: Look inside yourself, follow your heart, failure is just a stepping stone to future success. Oh, the places you’ll go! These are some of the many cliches that are repeated year after year. They’re also often insufferably boring.
Yet, it seems each season a glimmer of hope breaks through the the cracks from…
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Never a commotion in this town.
No crowds of yelling hustlers in the bus line.
No controlled professionals, stamping toward the train,
Without eyes but for a deadline.
A few cars driving to soccer practice,
And the college girl with a tattoo on her foot,
Gliding toward the coffee shop, admiring
The bouquet of sunshine and ocher leaves
And that tumbling hill where sleds find snow.
A lady who sells bacon
Covered in chocolate, before she teaches yoga
Down the street from that row of old houses
Where the lawyer writes a will on demand
And the insurance agent’s wife visits for lunch.
They own a dog, a yellow lab, who bounds up the…
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In the midst of all the research for the upcoming Forgiveness Issue, this beauty surfaced.
If you are not to become a monster,
you must care what they think.
If you care what they think,
how will you not hate them,
and so become a monster
of the opposite kind? From where then
is love to come—love for your enemy
that is the way of liberty?
From forgiveness. Forgiven, they go
free of you, and you of them;
they are to you as sunlight
on a green branch. You must not
think of them again, except
as monsters like yourself,
pitiable because unforgiving.
From the March 2015 Poetry.
Who would have imagined that I would have to go
a million miles away from the place where I was born
to find people who would love me?
And that I would go that distance and that I would find those people?
In the dream JoAnne was showing me how much arm to amputate
if your hand gets trapped in the gears of the machine;
if you acted fast, she said, you could save everything above the wrist.
You want to keep a really sharp blade close by, she said.
Now I raise that hand to scratch one of those nasty little
scabs on the…
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From Orion Magazine’s celebration of poetry month.
When the time’s toxins
have seeped into every cell
and like a salted plot
from which all rain, all green, are gone
I and life are leached
somehow a seed
sprouts the instant
I acknowledge it:
little weedy hardy would-be
while deep within
roots like talons
are taking hold again
of this our only earth.
To know just how He suffered — would be dear —
To know if any Human eyes were near
To whom He could entrust His wavering gaze —
Until it settle broad — on Paradise —
To know if He was patient — part content —
Was Dying as He thought — or different —
Was it a pleasant Day to die —
And did the Sunshine face his way —
What was His furthest mind — Of Home — or God —
Or what the Distant say —
At news that He ceased Human Nature
Such a Day —
And Wishes — Had He Any —
Just His Sigh — Accented —
Had been legible — to Me —
And was He Confident until
Ill fluttered out — in Everlasting Well —
And if He spoke — What name was Best —
What One broke off with
At the Drowsiest —
Was He afraid — or tranquil —
Might He know
How Conscious Consciousness — could grow —
Till Love that was — and Love too best to be —
Meet — and the Junction be Eternity
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
From his absolutely mandatory collection from last year, Idiot Psalms:
The breakfast was adequate, the fast
itself sub-par. We gluttons, having
modified our habits only somewhat
within the looming Lenten dark, failed
quite to shake our thick despair, an air
that clamped the heart, made moot the prayer.
As dim disciples having seen the light,
we supplied to it an unrelenting gloom.
Wipe your chin. I’m dying here
in Omaha, amid the flat, surrounded
by the beefy, land-locked generations,
the river, and the river’s rancid shore.
O what I wouldn’t give for a lifting,
cool salt breeze, a beach, a Labrador.
From his new collection of poems, Once in the West.
Daily higher the ivy dies,
Leaf by leaf subsiding white
Like a secret that seems to rise
Through vein and vine up to his eyes
And the green of what remains.
In spite of books and better light,
In spite of air and what friends say,
A rare arrested day, brief shoots,
In spite of all he cuts away:
From the ground up to the shelf,
From the leaves into the roots,
In spite of everything he tries,
Utterly the ivy tells itself.
1. Where to start with a hierarchy of most severe ‘little-l law’ in ‘secular’ society? We could start with body image, health, having cool experiences, and the like, but prosperity honestly takes the cake. And among the people who have already checked that box, it’s fast becoming political correctness. Political correctness is important, but its ascendant, uncompromising severity and occasional use as a class-code leads to a totalization which is, to say the least, in tension with the traditional (L/l)iberal ideal of discourse. Cue Camille Paglia, who had some fantastic things to say in America Magazine (Jesuits) about the backslide of feminism and…
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This man will be our featured poet for Issue 4, with two new, unpublished works.
They were talking to him about resurrection, about law,
about the suffering ahead.
They were talking as if to remind him who he was and
who they were. He was not
Like his three friends watching a little way off, not like
At the foot of the hill. A gray-green thunderhead massed
from the sea
And God spoke from it and said he was his. They were
About how the body, broken or burned, could live again,
Only the fiery text of the thunderhead could explain it.
And they were talking
About pain and the need for judgement and how he would
A law of pain, both its spirit and its letter in his own flesh,
and then break it,
That is, transcend it. His clothes flared like magnesium,
as they talked.