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when were you born ¿

Light streaming through clouds in the Inner Hebrides
inner hebrides, november 30, 2017 · ben wolfe

filling out a form
i was asked
when were you born ¿

there was no room to answer,
i was born a thousand times
yesterday alone

i am being born right now,

do you not see the blood ¿
do you not feel the contractions ¿
can you not hear
the endless mother-cry of
healed and broken joy ¿

— december 20, 2007

Drumsound

(Rumi, version by Coleman Barks)

Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.

A voice inside the beat
says, “I know you’re tired,
but come. This is the way.”

how to get there

dome interior, samarkand, uzbekistan

it has to do with calculus,
with breaking free
of the need to see
that one last step, the one that is
infinitely small,
as needing to be measured and divided
in its turn

it is zeno’s paradox,
we have puzzled it
for 2500 years,
circling the point,
at times infinitely close,

reaching for reunion with the whole,
yet always
steps beyond counting away,

kept at bay
by this mind-made trick
that makes us stop to carve
one last small digital divide
between

us

and the welcome
waiting
on the other side

— December 17, 2005

 

Introduction to Poetry

(by Billy Collins)

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Exercise

(by W.S. Merwin)

First forget what time it is
for an hour
do it regularly every day

then forget what day of the week it is
do this regularly for a week
then forget what country you are in
and practice doing it in company
for a week
then do them together
for a week
with as few breaks as possible

follow these by forgetting how to add
or to subtract
it makes no difference
you can change them around
after a week
both will help you later
to forget how to count

forget how to count
starting with your own age
starting with how to count backward
starting with even numbers
starting with Roman numerals
starting with fractions of Roman numerals
starting with the old calendar
going on to the old alphabet
going on to the alphabet
until everything is continuous again

go on to forgetting elements
starting with water
proceeding to earth
rising in fire

forget fire

The Little Space Within the Heart

(from the Upanishads)

The little space within the heart
is as great as the vast universe.
The heavens and the earth are there,
and the sun and the moon and the stars.
Fire and lightening and winds are there,
and all that now is and all that is not.

Life While-You-Wait

(by Wislawa Szymborska)
(translation by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh)

Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can’t take back,
stars you’ll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run ?
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).

You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I’ve done.

Enough

(by David Whyte)

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.