Kathleen Hirsch | Poetry
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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Poetry

Witness

Yesterday, this beautiful poem landed in my inbox from Steve Garnaas-Holmes, who writes a daily poetry blog, Unfolding Light.  

Advent blessings!

The brook is not the light
but it reflects the coming dawn.
The geese are not the winter,

but it falls from their wings.

The wave is not the sea;
the note is not the song;
I am not the light
but I am made of nothing else.

Bear witness.
If not to the light within,
bear witness to the dawn.
To the song.

The candle isn’t the sun,
but sings its song.
I don’t have to believe this,
just sing the song.

 

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Spring Into Your Creativity

To My Fellow Writers, Seekers, and Artists

With the thaws this winter have come a few exciting creative ventures.  Upcoming is one that, if you are local, you may want to check out:

On Saturday, May 13, I am collaborating with a highly gifted book artist, Susan Porter, to offer a new workshop called Illuminating Our Stories: A Creativity Lab.  It weaves together my creative and contemplative writing techniques with Susan’s astonishing color, collage, and folding repertoire.

For more details, go to “Spirit Works” via the home page at http://kathleenhirsch.com/.

 

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Burning Bush

 

Today at dusk red tongues

appear along the dripping boughs

so vivid that

even I, in my distraction

am forced

to stop.  Here you are

in a burning bush

at the edge of a park at rush hour.

Horns, and hankering for a drink,

an end to measured day,

the yen for something more.

 

Precisely, you, where I least expect you,

tethered strength

in a wandering time.

Here on a dying day

at the dawn of a dying season

you offer

a scrap of scripture

such as I found at every turn

in childhood,

a robin, a green frog, the crook of an elm

in which hide with a book.

 

Here you are

beyond the carnival

of cant and apprehensions,

abiding in the old story,

stopping us in our tracks,

that we might wake

to the real life around us,

see past our present doubts

the voice of truth,

a quiet flame, calling.

 

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Guides for a Dark Time

Guides are good.  I learned this when I was nine, lost in a downpour in the southern hills of New York State.  Were it not for one counselor, and her confidence in the few   green blazes barely visible through the drenched woods, I would be tramping still.

I am rereading May Sarton’s journal, At Seventy.  Her almost religious devotion to her annuals garden and the daily reinforcements that arrived in spring for her to plant, would make a green thumb out of an armadillo.  Her labors, punctuated by asides from Emerson, Virginia Woolf, or Camus, is seductive.  Reading it, I want her life, with its stream of visitors, its letters, its amplitudes.

One entry has lingered with me.  Sarton describes a friend just turned fifty as “imaginatively kind.”

The phrase throws a gauntlet to the reader.   Imaginative kindness.  It has an entirely different quality than the ordinary, dutiful, run-of-the-mill.  It is kindness that anticipates.  It strives to go deep towards the well-being of another – looking for occasions for surprise, delight, for hitting the mark, instead of just glancing the periphery.

We know it when we see it.  The considered gift, the innovative reading program, the art class where last year there wasn’t one, using recycled materials.

In these days of disastrously crude public discourse, and the waves of almost equally bad reactions with their rhetoric of accusation, victimhood, and anger, kindness can easily seem too frail and meager a thing to matter.  Care lives in the small details of attention – and who has time for that when the country is imploding?

We do.  And we must.

I cherish the memory of a neighbor’s “imaginative kindness” on a day long ago when, like a scorched-earth patch of earth, I was sorely in need of tending to.   Recently retired, she spent many hours of every day in her extensive gardens, replanting, raking, weeding.  They were so lovely that cars would slow to admire her handiwork.

It was a time in life when I was overwhelmed with child-rearing, more work than I could reasonably manage, and a busy husband.  I had neither the time nor money to do anything about my weed-ridden, depleted yard.  One summer day, without a word, she disappeared into the jungle behind my house with her tools — a rake, an edger, and a hoe — and set to work.  She edged the beds, raked away moss and leaves, pulled out weeds.

I hadn’t realized how low I’d been until I felt the lift of her amazing transformations.  It was as if someone had changed my sheets, opened the windows, and let in a whole new season.  It was a gift, imaginative and incredibly kind.  Easy to say that it didn’t change history, but I disagree.  It changed my day, my month, and probably my year, with its ripples.  It is changing things, even now; like all acts of kindness, it is a gift that keeps on giving.

For her 50-year-old friend, Sarton composed a poem, because her friend’s journey was, she writes, “partly about coming to a place where life has grown more important than ambition…”

I suspect that this is precisely the change required of us if we are to be “imaginatively kind.”  And it is perhaps why such kindness is in such short supply.   Ambition blinds.  It is a distraction that, for years, we mistake for the main event.  Kindness sees.

And seers are the guides we need now.  They aren’t household names, most of them, or people we recognize from the news.  Most of them are poets and gardeners of one ilk or another, pottering away in classrooms or clinics or in forlorn places somewhere very near us, shaping life in a vision of hope for those too burned out or too far underwater to be able to do so for themselves.

It is a good exercise in awareness to think about who these guides have been, or who they may be, in our lives today.  Then to learn from them to slow down and pick up our own rakes or paint brushes, write our own poems, paint our own canvasses, practice a kindness that stretches the frame of us.

 

 

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Found Poem

At a recent retreat, I led a group in constructing poems from found phrases and the words of other poets.  The process resembles the ancient method of lectio divina, and always rewards the effort.  Try it.  

 

On Longing

 

God needs our longing

(It doesn’t have to be perfect)

and long work

(It can be brunt brownies).

 

Turning our lives into celebration

is not easy.

Keep a modest face,

hope for deeper acquaintance

with the rose –

from thorns emerge the whitest stars.

 

A few words

uprightly burning

is all that is needed.

 

The day you see this,

That day you will become it.

 

(Thanks to Mary Oliver, Sun Bu-er, Nelly Sachs, and Gabriela Mistral)

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Finding the Poetry in the Prose

“Each of us is a citadel of metaphors.”

I believe it was the Jungian psychologist, James Hillman, who wrote this, and it’s as good a definition of a human life as I know.

We are in many aggregates of words.  Conversations, dreams, asides, and rants.  Temper tantrums.  Self display.

For many of us, the archive of our long trails of utterance is our journals.   At some point, what began as a vest-pocket monograph ends up a footlocker worth of pages.  Like a sand mandala, we don’t know what we are crafting, until one day we pause with an afternoon at our disposal, and open to the first page of the first one again.

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