October 19: “Praise Song for the Day”

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

— Elizabeth Alexander

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September 24: “Unharvested”

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

— Robert Frost

April 13: “the lesson of the moth”

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself

— Don Marquis

February 25: “Love Like Salt”

It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher

It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought

It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it

We carry a pinch behind each eyeball

It breaks out on our foreheads

We store it inside our bodies
in secret wineskins

At supper, we pass it around the table
talking of holidays and the sea.

— Lisel Mueller

January 30: “The Good in the Evil World”

Before the war leaned in and blew out
the candles, there were many long days
where lovers called themselves lovers
and a house was a dream but also
four walls, a roof. A father called
to his daughter to see the monarch butterflies,
pausing in their migration to fan the goldenrod,
a tiger in each coy disclosure.
A young man reached for a blackberry
and found draped on a branch a green snake
the color of matcha. A snake the color of matcha
sighed in the sun. People drove in cars.
There were jobs and someone had to work
every morning. A man quit his job
but it was no tragedy. He didn’t like the work.
Another man slid in and found it comfortable
enough, and just as easily slid in beside
the man’s wife and into the everyday rhythms
of his life and that was no tragedy either.
After rains, a ring of mushrooms would delicately
crack the earth. Spanish moss harbored red mites.
The sky wasn’t interesting. No one looked up.

— Rebecca Hazelton

January 23: “Monday”

Awake, like a hippopotamus with eyes bulged
from the covers, I find Monday, improbable
as chair legs, camped around me, and God’s terrible
searchlight raking down from his pillbox on Mount Hood,
while His mystic hammers reach from the alarm clock
and rain spangles on my head.

Cliff at my back all week I live, afraid
when light comes, because it has deep whirlpools
in it. I cross each day by the shallow part but
have often touched the great hole in the sky
at noon. I close my eyes and let the day
for a while wander where all things will, and then
it settles in a fold of the north.

At the end, in my last sickness, I think I will travel
north, if well-meaning friends will let me– to bush,
to rock, to snow– have nothing by me, fall
on the sky of earth in the north, and let my heart
finally understand that part of the world
I have secretly loved all my life– the rock. But now
I gradually become young, surge from the covers,
and go to work.

— William Stafford