When the state of the world overwhelms me, I turn to tried and trusted remedies: good food prepared with a whole lot of butter, some semblance of trees and clear sky, the conversation of close friends that feel more like family, and good words.
So please, take a moment with me and step away from the think pieces and the to-do lists and the work email and the clutter and lean into some good old-fashioned poetry. Here are a few of my favorites, reposted and reprinted entirely without the authors’ or publishers’ permission, since I don’t know them.
A Story That Could Be True – William Stafford
If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.
He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand on the corner shivering.
The people who go by—
you wonder at their calm.
They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
“Who are you really, wanderer?”—
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
“Maybe I’m a king.”
The Old Poets of China – Mary Oliver
Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.
I – Maurice Manning
boss of the grassy green
boss of the silver puddle
how happy is my lot
to tend the green to catch
the water when it rains
to do the doing Boss
the way the sun wakes up
the leaves they yawn a bit
each day a little more
for a tiny reason then
when the leaves outgrow their green
the wind unwinds them Boss
that’s the way you go around
if you loose me like a leaf
if you unburden me
if I untaste the taste
of being bossed by you
don’t boss me down to dust
may I become a flower
when my blossom Boss if full
boss a bee to my blue lips
that one drop of my bloom
would softly drop into
your sweetness once again
if I go round that way
I’ll know the doing means
what it means to me
a word before all words
Purity – Billy Collins
My favorite time to write is in the late afternoon,
weekdays, particularly Wednesdays.
This is how I got about it:
I take a fresh pot of tea into my study and close the door.
Then I remove my clothes and leave them in a pile
as if I had melted to death and my legacy consisted of only
a white shirt, a pair of pants and a pot of cold tea.
Then I remove my flesh and hang it over a chair.
I slide if off my bones like a silken garment.
I do this so that what I write will be pure,
completely rinsed of the carnal,
uncontaminated by the preoccupations of the body.
Finally I remove each of my organs and arrange them
on a small table near the window.
I do not want to hear their ancient rhythms
when I am trying to tap out my own drumbeat.
Now I sit down at the desk, ready to begin.
I am entirely pure: nothing but a skeleton at a typewriter.
I should mention that sometimes I leave my penis on.
I find it difficult to ignore the temptation.
Then I am a skeleton with a penis at a typewriter.
In this condition I write extraordinary love poems,
most of them exploiting the connection between sex and death.
I am concentration itself: I exist in a universe
where there is nothing but sex, death, and typewriting.
After a spell of this I remove my penis too.
Then I am all skull and bones typing into the afternoon.
Just the absolute essentials, no flounces.
Now I write only about death, most classical of themes
in language light as the air between my ribs.
Afterward, I reward myself by going for a drive at sunset.
I replace my organs and slip back into my flesh
and clothes. Then I back the car out of the garage
and speed through woods on winding country roads,
passing stone walls, farmhouses, and frozen ponds,
all perfectly arranged like words in a famous sonnet.
And, of course to finish:
The Peace of the Wild Things – Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Matt Medendorp (’14) graduated with a writing degree held together by duct tape and a few trips abroad. Currently he lives in Grand Rapids, works for Chaco, and claims to be producing a book of writing and photography from his time in Alaska.