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Good Poems for Hard Times: A Love Letter to Garrison Keillor

Good Poems for Hard Times: A Love Letter to Garrison Keillor

In a preaching class in seminary we were all told to go around the room and tell everyone our name, where we were from, and who our favorite preacher was. While I knew it probably wasn’t the right answer, the truest answer for me was that my favorite preacher was, and still is, the magnificent Garrison Keillor.

To say that I loved Garrison Keillor with all my heart would be an understatement. I grew up on Public Radio in Mississippi. Which means that as a child I heard loads of classical music and Morning Edition. And while this was likely good…

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Don’t Tell Anyone – Tony Hoagland

Don’t Tell Anyone – Tony Hoagland

We had been married for six or seven years
when my wife, standing in the kitchen one afternoon, told me
that she screams underwater when she swims—

that, in fact, she has been screaming for years
into the blue chlorinated water of the community pool
where she does laps every other day.

Buttering her toast, not as if she had been
concealing anything,
not as if I should consider myself

personally the cause of her screaming,
nor as if we should perform an act of therapy
right that minute on the kitchen table,

—casually, she told me,
and I could see her turn her square face up
to take a gulp of oxygen,

then down…

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“You Do Not Have to Be Good” and Other Lines That Could Save a Life

“You Do Not Have to Be Good” and Other Lines That Could Save a Life

When the box spring squeals at four in the morning and jolts me into wakefulness—or when the sleeping pill wears off too early and I am dragged just so slowly by life’s tide back onto the shore of Day—I like to pretend God (or the universe, if it’s too early to say God) is trying to turn me into Mary Oliver. Someone patient and attentive—someone who can enjoy a thousand mornings.

Of course when the real me checks the time on her iPhone, the first words on her lips are profanities and not poetry; and she has enjoyed about three in…

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“Scenes from ‘The Passion': The First Path” – Liz Berry

“Scenes from ‘The Passion': The First Path” – Liz Berry

A beautiful scene from the Black Country poet, who was shortlisted for the Forward Prize Best First Collection in 2014.

When you found me there was nothing beautiful about me.
I wasn’t even human
a mongrel
kicked out into the snow on Maundy Thursday
when all the world was sorrow,
when old girls’ hands were raw as they cracked
the ice on their birdbaths,
when the priest wept in Saint Jude the Apostle
as he knelt to wash the feet of an altar boy.

I was filth,
running away from God knows what,
my haunches sore with bruises,
my spine knuckling the ruin of my coat.

Running through the town
away from the horses
who bowed their…

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Best Anti-Commencement Speeches of 2015 (So Far)

Best Anti-Commencement Speeches of 2015 (So Far)

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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Our Town

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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Enemies – Wendell Berry

In the midst of all the research for the upcoming Forgiveness Issue, this beauty surfaced.

twelve_angry_men

 

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.

Bible Study – Tony Hoagland

Bible Study – Tony Hoagland

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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When the Time’s Toxins – Christian Wiman

From Orion Magazine’s celebration of poetry month

tree-of-life52When 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
of meaning

somehow a seed
of belief

sprouts the instant
I acknowledge it:

little weedy hardy would-be
greenness

tugged upward
by light

while deep within
roots like talons

are taking hold again
of this our only earth.

A Poem for Good Friday – Emily Dickinson (#622)

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 —

106friedTo 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 last
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

The Donkey – G.K. Chesterton

9780394842325When 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.

Lenten Complaint – Scott Cairns

From his absolutely mandatory collection from last year, Idiot Psalms:

idiot-psalms-new-poemsThe 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.