Navigation Menu+

A Conversation with Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye

Posted by on September 3, 2016 in Blog, Healing Poetry

A Conversation with Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye

This is the world I want to live in. Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.”   Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there. I’m rereading the beginning of this poem now, and I know how it ends—and I realize this is the moment that sets the story of the poem in motion. The speaker goes against hesitation—against the small fear—the pause—because of the way things are “these days.” It reminds me of that moment in Opening the Door of Mercy—that question that arises: But when someone approaches, I have to decide: Is my own safety always the most important consideration? Must I fear all whom I don’t know? Do I help or not? An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”   I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit- se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.” Nye’s father is Palestinian—so there’s a familiarity to the older woman—her dress—her language. But for the flight agent the difference is more severe—and alienating—and the wailing heightens it—fear is rising, I suspect. We all do this. I do this. A disturbance in the smooth ordinary hum of things—an interruption—can frighten me—or at least throw me (which is based in some fear?) I dream that I’m trying to buy a bus ticket. I need to get home. This goes on for a while. Finally, I find a Greyhound counter—but the woman behind the counter seems disoriented—she’s crying—something has happened. I try to summon patience—a measure of compassion for her sorrow—to let her talk—draw her out—and this lasts a minute—maybe—but then I myself am wailing: where can I get a bus ticket? Sometimes safety is not the only issue—also efficiency—and just getting what I want—say the comfort of my own home. We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours. I would like to become this kind of person—the one who makes the call—who stays as long as it takes—who forgets about trying to get home—who makes a woman...

read more

Praying by Mary Oliver

Posted by on August 6, 2016 in Blog, Healing Poetry

Praying by Mary Oliver

I’ve been thinking about poems as prayers—or poems that could be prayers—and what that might mean.   Prayer for Joy by Stuart Kestenbaum Prayer for the Dead by Stuart Kestenbaum   I found these lines from the prologue to a volume of poetry, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, by Marie Howe: the men who’d hijacked the airplane prayed where the dead pilots had been sitting, and the passengers prayed from their seats —so many songs went up and out into the thinning air . . .   It’s a powerful image—that juxtaposition—the prayers of the hijackers and the hijacked—so many thoughts and words—and certainly some can be misguided—confused—and it does matter what kind of prayers we offer—what kinds of poems—what kinds of thoughts and words. These could, I’m reminded here, become a matter of life and death.   I found these synonyms for prayer: invocation, intercession, devotion, appeal, plea   And I remembered this short poem, “Praying,” by Mary Oliver: this isn’t a contest but the doorway   into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.   Oliver seems to offer here a kind of gentle guidance. And to raise questions: Prayers as doorways into gratitude? Prayers as a way of creating a space that invites someone else in rather than shutting them out? (thus a prayer that sought to obliterate another person wouldn’t actually be a prayer?)   And perhaps this is a clue as to how a poem can become a prayer? By creating a doorway? Creating a kind of necessary silence? Creating a space for another to reflect and write and create their own prayer? Maybe? See also On The Kingdom of Ordinary Time On Opening the Door of Mercy Full text of Mary Oliver’s poem at Poem Elf Photo at Wikimedia...

read more

Prayer for the Dead by Stuart Kestenbaum

Posted by on July 21, 2016 in Blog, Healing Poetry

Prayer for the Dead by Stuart Kestenbaum

Kestenbaum’s poem begins: The light snow started late last night and continued all night long while I slept and could hear it occasionally enter my sleep, where I dreamed my brother was alive again and possessing the beauty of youth, aware that he would be leaving again shortly I have had that dream—where I was with someone who is no longer here and inside the dream I knew that it wasn’t going to last. It was so lovely but at the same time the whole dream was shot through with this awareness—this is not going to last—this is temporary. . . .   It’s an awareness that could, it seems, begin to permeate every single thing I do—every time I load groceries into the car or feed the birds or listen to someone talking, their hands making shapes in the air—I could become aware of this same sense that was in the dream—aware that this will be ending shortly—me watching these hands make these shapes in the air . . .   Kestenbaum continues: . . . and that is the lesson of the snow falling and of the seeds of death that are in everything that is born: we are here for a moment of a story that is longer than all of us   Sometimes it seems like we know this in moments—the truth of it breaking through after we hear news of a death— the seeds of death that are in everything And I know this could be (and is often) considered morbid—but isn’t it just the way things are?—the deal—no more than 100 years for most of us—for many of us, less. (interesting that the word morbid is defined this way: characterized by or appealing to an abnormal and unhealthy interest in disturbing and unpleasant subjects, especially death and disease: he had long held a morbid fascination with the horrors of contemporary warfare.) I don’t find the poem morbid. I don’t find Kestenbaum’s awareness of the seeds of death unhealthy—actually, this awareness seems quite sane—it’s the way things are. we are here for a moment of a story that is longer than all of us . . .   And he doesn’t stop here. He takes this yet further: if you discover some old piece of your own writing, or an old photograph, you may not remember that it was you and even if it was once you, it’s not you now Not just that we will end—but the person who I once was has already ended. This seems terribly and wonderfully sane to me. Not just a prayer for the dead but for all of us.   And I find myself thinking of Mary Oliver’s question, from her poem, “The Summer Day”: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? It’s summer now. . . at least in this hemisphere . . . What is it you plan to do with this 100 years? These 5000 or so weeks? Beginning with this next week which will surely in some way shape the ones that come after . . . And would it help first just to begin to write about it? Full text of Prayer for the Dead can be found at Poetry Foundation. Full text...

read more

Book Giveaway: A Summer Gift

Posted by on July 12, 2016 in Blog

Book Giveaway: A Summer Gift

Note: This giveaway has ended, I will write a new post when I start a new giveaway. Starting Wednesday, August 17 and running through Saturday, September 11, I’ll be offering a third giveaway at Goodreads of my book, One Year of Writing and Healing. The winner of the giveaway will receive a copy of the book AND a blank journal for one’s own writing. A summer gift–for you–or for a writer in your life who might benefit. You do need to join Goodreads if you’re not already a member (and they’ll prompt you to do so), but Goodreads is free–and it’s a nice place to keep track of books–what you’ve read–and what you want to read.You can read more about the book here. Finally, I’ve also started creating a catalogue of healing books at Goodreads. For instance, books about healing grief can be found here. Books about developing the craft of writing can be found here. Photo from...

read more

Prayer for Joy by Stuart Kestenbaum

Posted by on July 8, 2016 in Blog, Healing Poetry

Prayer for Joy by Stuart Kestenbaum

I love that Kestenbaum’s poem begins with a question: What was it we wanted to say anyhow? There’s so much we could say, and perhaps there’s something ready to emerge—be spoken—but what was it exactly? What word or string of words out of all the ones we’ve learned? There’s so often some external condition to consider—to remind us—something happening in the world—in the case of this poem a bowl of alphabet soup! And the letter J floating up the surface—that letter so often-neglected and thus surprising— Kestenbaum writes: The ‘j’, a letter that might be great for Scrabble, but not really used for much else, unless we need to jump for joy, and then all of a sudden it’s there and ready to help us soar and to open up our hearts at the same time . . . Oh, letter J. All of a sudden—there—there you are—ready to help us soar and open up—reminding us—what word was it? Jump? Joy? And the two coming together becoming more than either—soaring and opening—both at the same time. Kestenbaum continues: this simple line with a curved bottom, an upside down cane that helps us walk in a new way into this forest of language . . . A forest of language—and with so many possibilities—so many things we could say to each other. So many words we could write. Beginning with such simple lines and curves. Now what is it we truly want to say? A full text of the poem can be found at Poetry Foundation The image is from A Apple Pie by Kate Greenway housed at the digital library of U. Penn. A book from my own childhood that I loved, each letter calling forth something...

read more