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In celebration of National Poetry Month, here are five poems that awaken my sense of the Divine Presence in the world around me and in my life.


WILD GEESE — Mary Oliver (American, 1935-2019)

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.


My place in the family of things.” Or this one . . .


LAST NIGHT AS I WAS SLEEPING — Antonio Machado (Spanish, 1875-1939, tr. Robert Bly, American, b. 1926)

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.


Bees making “sweet honey from my old failures.” Nothing is wasted when God is involved. Or this one to remind me of the wonder of children and words and the power of a moment . . .


LILY — Brian Doyle (American, 1956-2017)

The kindergarten bus bounces past me this morning as
I shamble out to my car and a little cheerful kid waves
To me shyly and whatever it is we are way down deep
Opens like a fist that’s been clenched so long it did not
Think it would ever open again and for a moment I am
That kid and she is my daughter and I’m waving to her
Hoping she will wave to me and we think that we can’t
Write that for which we do not have words but actually
Sometimes you can if you go gently between the words


“Between the words” — Always between, as if we might find something there, if we knew how to look. If we were not so distracted . . .


PRAYER — Marie Howe (American, b. 1950)

Every day I want to speak with you.
And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore,
the beauty products, the luggage
I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here
among the falling piles of paper and clothing,
the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?
My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.
Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.


Or this last one . . . which is a sort of grace:


BRIEFLY IT ENTERS, AND BRIEFLY SPEAKS — Jane Kenyon (American, 1947-1995)

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years….

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me….

I am food on the prisoner’s plate….

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills….

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden….

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge….

I am the heart contracted by joy….
the longest hair, white
before the rest….

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow….

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit….

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name….


These are but a few and I don’t know how to close except to say that poetry is able to access our imagination and awaken our attentiveness for something else going on around us. Something “other.” The presence of mystery. Of God. Poetic expression, by its nature, points to something beyond the words of its structure. It can reveal a frontier of ordinariness through which God is always approaching us.


WILD GEESE, Mary Oliver (from Dream Work, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986). LAST NIGHT AS I WAS SLEEPING, Antonio Machado (from Times Alone: Selected Poems, translations by Robert Bly, Wesleyan University Press, 1983). LILY, Brian Doyle (from The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be, Liturgical Press, 2016). PRAYER, Marie Howe (from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, W.W. Norton & Co, 2008). BRIEFLY IT ENTERS, AND BRIEFLY SPEAKS, Jane Kenyon (from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press, 1996).