Archive for August, 2011

One thought, that is my torment and delight,
Ebbs and flows bittersweet within my heart
And between doubt and hope rends me apart
While peace and all tranquility take flight.
Therefore, dear sister, should this letter dwell
Upon my weighty need of seeing you,
It is that grief and pain shall be my due
Unless my wait should end both swift and well.
I’ve seen a ship’s sails slackened by taut ropes
On the high tide at the harbour bar
And a clear sky suddenly fill with cloud;
Likewise fear and distress fill all my hopes,
Not because of you, but for the times there are
When Fortune doubly strikes on sail and shroud.

Mary Stuart



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 Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.


O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

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Francesco Petrarca – Petrarch – from Canzoniere
trans. Mark Musa

Sonnet 3

It was the day the sun’s ray had turned pale

with pity for the suffering of his Maker

when I was caught (and I put up no fight),

my lady, for your lovely eyes had bound me.

It seemed no time to be on guard against

Love’s blows; therefore, I went my way

secure and fearless – so, all my misfortunes began

in the midst of universal woe.

Love found me all disarmed and saw the way

was clear to reach my heart down through the eyes,

which have become the halls and doors of tears.

It seems to me it did him little honor

to wound me with his arrow in my state

and to you, armed, not show his bow at all.

Sonnet 157

That day for forevermore so cruel and honored

sent to my heart its image so alive

there is no wit or style that can describe it,

but often I recall it with my mind.

Her attitude, adorned with gracious pity,

the bittersweet lamenting that I heard,

caused me to wonder were she mortal woman

or goddess, for she cleared the sky around her.

Her head fine gold, her face was like warm snow,

her eyebrows ebony, her eyes two stars

from where Love never bent his bow in vain—

pearls and red roses where the gathered grief was

transformed into ardent, lovely words—

her sighs of blame, her tears as though of crystal.

Sonnet 90

She’d let her gold hair flow free in the breeze

and whirled it into thousands of sweet knots,

and lovely light would burn beyond all measure

in those fair eyes whose light is dimmer now.

Her face would turn the color pity wears,

a pity true or false I did not know,

and I with all love’s tinder in my breast—

it’s no surprise I quickly caught on fire.

The way she walked was not the way of mortals

but of angelic forms, and when she spoke

more than an earthly voice it was that sang:

a godly spirit and a living sun

was what I saw, and if she is not now,

my wound still bleeds, although the bow’s unbent.

Sonnet 5

When I summon my sighs to call for you,

with the name love inscribed upon my heart,

And LAUdable sound at the beginning

of the sweet accents of that word comes forth.

Your REgal state which I encounter next

doubles my strength for the high enterprise,

that “TAcitly the end cries, “for her honor

These better shoulders for support than yours.”

And so, to LAUd and to REvere the word

itself instructs whenever someone calls you,

A lady worthy of all praise and honor –

Unless, perhaps, Apollo be offended

A morTAl tongue be so presumptuous

to speak of his eternally green boughs.

*Laure ta, laure ta! : praise you, praise you!

Sir Philip Sidney

Astrophil & Stella 9

Queen Virtue’s court, which some call Stella’s face,

prepared by nature’s chiefest furniture,

hath his front built of alabaster pure:

gold is the covering of that stately place.

The door, by which sometimes comes forth her grace,

red porphyr is, which lock of pearl make sure;

whose porches rich, which name of cheeks endure,

marble, mixed red and white, do interlace.

The windows now, through which this heavenly guest

looks over the world and can nothing such

which dare claim from those lights the name of best,

of touch they are that without touch doth touch,

which Cupid’s self from Beauty’s mine did draw:

of touch they are and poor I am their straw.

Lady Mary Wroth (neice of Sir Philip Sidney)

Pamphila to Amphilanthus 1

When night’s blacke Mantle could most darknesse proue,

And sleepe (deaths Image) did my senses hyre,

From Knowledge of my selfe, then thoughts did moue

Swifter then those, most swiftnesse neede require.

In sleepe, a Chariot drawne by wing’d Desire,

I saw; where sate bright Venus Queene of Loue,

And at her feete her Sonne, still adding Fire

To burning hearts, which she did hold aboue,

But one heart flaming more then all the rest,

The Goddesse held, and put it to my breast,

Deare Sonne now shoot, said she: thus must we winne;

He her obey’d, and martyr’d my poore heart.

I waking hop’d as dreames it would depart,

Yet since, O me, a Lover I haue beene.

Edmund Spenser



My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun;

coral is far more red than her lips red:

if snow be white, whyy then her breasts are dun;

if hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,

but no such roses see I in her cheeks,

and in some perfumes is there more delight

than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

that music has a far more pleasing sound.

I grant I never saw a goddess go:

my mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.

and yet, by heaven I think my love as rare

as any she belied with false compare.

Sting’s “Sister Moon


Sonnet 14

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn and make me new.

I, like a usurped town, to another due,

Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, and me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

That am betrothed unto your enemy.

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Sonnet 17

Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt

To nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,

And her soul early into heaven ravished,

Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set.

Here the admiring her my mind did whet

To seek thee, God; so streams to show the head;

But though I have found thee, and thou my thirst hast fed,

A wholly thirsty dropsy melts me yet.

But why should I beg more love, whenas thou

Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all thine;

And dost not only fear lest I allow

My love to saints and angels, things divine,

But in thy tender jealousy dost doubt

Lest the world, flesh, yea the devil put thee out.

Sonnet 18

Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear.

What! Is it she which on the other shore

Goes richly painted? Or which, robbed and tore,

Laments and mourns in Germany and here?

Sleep she a thousand, then peeps up one year?

Is she self-truth, and errs? Now new, now outwore?

Does she, and did she, and shall she evermore

On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?

Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights

First travel we seek, and then make love?

Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,

And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,

Who is most true and pleasing to thee then

When she is embraced and open to most men.

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Bede’s Story of Caedmon: http://www.heorot.dk/bede-caedmon.html

Caedmon’s Hymn (West Saxon Version)

Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte and his modgeþanc
weorc wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs
ece drihten, or onstealde.

He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig scyppend;
þa middangeard moncynnes weard
ece drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, frea ælmihtig


Old English Poetry Recordings (including Caedmon’s hymn): http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/noa/audio.htm


Caedmon too I was lucky to have known,
Back in situ there with his full bucket
And armfuls of clean straw, the perfect yardman,
Unabsorbed in what he had to do
But doing it perfectly, and watching you.
He had worked his angel stint. He was hard as nails
And all that time he’d been poeting with the harp
His real gift was the big ignorant roar
He could still let out of him, just bogging in
As if the sacred subjects were a herd
That had broken out and needed rounding up.
I never saw him once with his hands joined
Unless it was a case of eyes to heaven
And the quick sniff and test of fingertips
After he’d passed them through a sick beast’s water.
Oh, Caedmon was the real thing all right.

Seamus Heaney


All others talked as if

talk were a dance.

Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet

would break the gliding ring.

Early I learned to

hunch myself

close by the door:

then when the talk began

I’d wipe my

mouth and wend

unnoticed back to the barn

to be with the warm beasts,

dumb among body sounds

of the simple ones.

I’d see by a twist

of lit rush the motes

of gold moving

from shadow to shadow

slow in the wake

of deep untroubled sighs.

The cows

munched or stirred or were still. I

was at home and lonely,

both in good measure. Until

the sudden angel affrighted me—light effacing

my feeble beam,

a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:

but the cows as before

were calm, and nothing was burning,

nothing but I, as that hand of fire

touched my lips and scorched my tongue

and pulled my voice

into the ring of the dance.

Denise Levertov

“Caedmon Remembers”

Hearing the harp, like hearing my enemy’s horn,
filled my heart with fear even when I was
longing for heaven to come down into my hands

so I could pray and praise in the company
of men in the mead-hall, those ordinary mortals,
my friends and my kinsmen from whom I fled

to bungle my way to the barn to bed down
with the animals, not expecting the angel, who appeared
and said: “Sing to the Shaper the beginnings of earth and sky!”

Jane Beal

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All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings

Preacher Ken Follett of Church of the Advent, my church, quoted these first four lines from one of Tolkien’s most famous poems in his sermon today.

He explained them and made me think about them in a different way. Some golden things do glitter; others do not, but that does not make them any less gold. Of course we wander, like Paul who was prevented from going to Asia and ended up in Macedonia, not knowing where we are or where we are going — but not lost, not truly, because God knows our whole journey, beginning to end, and he reveals our next step at the right time. The scriptures are not only old, but ancient, and their truth does not wither in our hearts: they make us come alive!  Deep roots help our whole being to survive and thrive.

This was encouraging to think about.

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About an Acorn

“When you look at the oak tree, you don’t feel the “loss” of the acorn is a very great loss … The seed does not “know” what will happen. It only knows what is happening–the falling, the darkness, the dying … God’s ultimate plan was as far beyond our imaginings as the oak tree is from the acorn’s imaginings. The acorn does what it was made to do … Why must I let myself be lost? we persist. The answer is, Look at the acorn and trust Me.” ~ Elizabeth Eliot (1984)

“I have spent the evening by a little pool which held the silent sky in its heart.” ~ Elizabeth Elliot (1948)

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“Though Love appears far off,
you will move into its depth.”

Hadewijch of Brabant (13th c.)

from The Mirror of Simple Souls

She is alone in love, the Phoenix alone.
The soul is solitary in love,
the soul has all and has nothing,
she knows all and knows nothing,
yet she swims in the sea of joy,
swims in the sea of delights flowing and streaming
down from the Godhead.
The soul feels no joy
for she is joy
swimming and floating in joy.
She lives in joy. Joy lives in her.

Marguerite  Porete (13-14th c.)

“You can make blossom in me
flowers of fire.”

Huang O (1498-1569)


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Two swans sailing
on the bright mirror of the water—

their reflections like new souls
being born into daylight!

Two lovers standing
in the willow-tree shade

beside swan-lake
in the Cherry Hills—

newly married,

Their eyes illuminated
by summer-light—

their hearts opened
by the renewal of time.


Jane Beal
Cherry Hills Village, CO
for Steve & Tamara

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Sky links cloud waves, links dawn fog.

The star river is about to turn.

A thousand sails dance.

Li Ch’ing-Chao

from “Where Am I Going?”

(translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping)

w/ photos of the Colorado sky at sunrise

by Jane Beal




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Answering Li Ying who Showed Me

his Poems about Summer Fishing

Though he lived in the same lane,

a whole year we didn’t meet

until his tender phrases touched this aging woman.

I broke a new cinnamon branch.

The Tao nature cheats ice and snow.

The enlightened heart laughs at summer silks.

Footsteps climb the River of Clouds

lost beyond roads in the sea of mist.

(Translated by Jeffrey Waters)

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One of Sappho’s Love Songs

now in my

heart I

see clearly

a beautiful




by love.

(translated by Willis Barnestone)

Tzu Yeh’s Lament

All night I could not sleep

because of the moonlight on my bed.

I kept hearing a voice calling:

out of Nowhere, Nothing answered “yes.”

(translated by Arthur Whaley)

Anonymous Sanskrit Song 

When he comes back

to my arms

I’ll make him feel

what nobody ever felt



vanishing into him

like water

into the clay of a new jar

(translated by W.S. Merwin and Moussaieff Masson)

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Yesterday, I received a gift, a book of poems sent to me by mail for my birthday: Voices of Light: Spiritual and Visionary Poems by Women around the World from Ancient Sumeria to Now edited by Aliki Barnstone. It came to me from my friend Katrina in Chicago. It is full of astonishing and lovely poems. I am reading them curiously, joyfully, and with great, particular attention. They deserve this from me and from all their readers.

Sometimes the short poems stand out like red poppies in a green field. This one was like that:

“Light and Earth”

Most beautiful of things I leave is sunlight.

Then come glazing stars and the moon’s face.

Then ripe cucumbers and apples and pears.


(ca. 450 BCE)

I will meditate more on these poems in the days to come.

(Thank you, Katrina!)

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“Demeter and Persephone” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies
All night across the darkness, and at dawn
Falls on the threshold of her native land,
And can no more, thou camest, O my child,
Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams,
Who laid thee at Eleusis, dazed and dumb,
With passing thro’ at once from state to state,
Until I brought thee hither, that the day,
When here thy hands let fall the gather’d flower,
Might break thro’ clouded memories once again
On thy lost self. A sudden nightingale
Saw thee, and flash’d into a frolic of song
And welcome; and a gleam as of the moon,
When first she peers along the tremulous deep,
Fled wavering o’er thy face, and chased away
That shadow of a likeness to the king
Of shadows, thy dark mate. Persephone!
Queen of the dead no more — my child! Thine eyes
Again were human-godlike, and the Sun
Burst from a swimming fleece of winter gray,
And robed thee in his day from head to feet —
“Mother!” and I was folded in thine arms.

Child, those imperial, disimpassion’d eyes
Awed even me at first, thy mother — eyes
That oft had seen the serpent-wanded power
Draw downward into Hades with his drift
Of fickering spectres, lighted from below
By the red race of fiery Phlegethon;
But when before have Gods or men beheld
The Life that had descended re-arise,
And lighted from above him by the Sun?
So mighty was the mother’s childless cry,
A cry that ran thro’ Hades, Earth, and Heaven!

So in this pleasant vale we stand again,
The field of Enna, now once more ablaze
With flowers that brighten as thy footstep falls,
All flowers — but for one black blur of earth
Left by that closing chasm, thro’ which the car
Of dark Aidoneus rising rapt thee hence.
And here, my child, tho’ folded in thine arms,
I feel the deathless heart of motherhood
Within me shudder, lest the naked glebe
Should yawn once more into the gulf, and thence
The shrilly whinnyings of the team of Hell,
Ascending, pierce the glad and songful air,
And all at once their arch’d necks, midnight-maned,
Jet upward thro’ the mid-day blossom. No!
For, see, thy foot has touch’d it; all the space
Of blank earth-baldness clothes itself afresh,
And breaks into the crocus-purple hour
That saw thee vanish.

Child, when thou wert gone,
I envied human wives, and nested birds,
Yea, the cubb’d lioness; went in search of thee
Thro’ many a palace, many a cot, and gave
Thy breast to ailing infants in the night,
And set the mother waking in amaze
To find her sick one whole; and forth again
Among the wail of midnight winds, and cried,
“Where is my loved one? Wherefore do ye wail?”
And out from all the night an answer shrill’d,
“We know not, and we know not why we wail.”
I climb’d on all the cliffs of all the seas,
And ask’d the waves that moan about the world
“Where? do ye make your moaning for my child?”
And round from all the world the voices came
“We know not, and we know not why we moan.”
“Where?” and I stared from every eagle-peak,
I thridded the black heart of all the woods,
I peer’d thro’ tomb and cave, and in the storms
Of Autumn swept across the city, and heard
The murmur of their temples chanting me,
Me, me, the desolate Mother! “Where”? — and turn’d,
And fled by many a waste, forlorn of man,
And grieved for man thro’ all my grief for thee, —
The jungle rooted in his shatter’d hearth,
The serpent coil’d about his broken shaft,
The scorpion crawling over naked skulls; —
I saw the tiger in the ruin’d fane
Spring from his fallen God, but trace of thee
I saw not; and far on, and, following out
A league of labyrinthine darkness, came
On three gray heads beneath a gleaming rift.
“Where”? and I heard one voice from all the three
“We know not, for we spin the lives of men,
And not of Gods, and know not why we spin!
There is a Fate beyond us.” Nothing knew.

Last as the likeness of a dying man,
Without his knowledge, from him flits to warn
A far-off friendship that he comes no more,
So he, the God of dreams, who heard my cry,
Drew from thyself the likeness of thyself
Without thy knowledge, and thy shadow past
Before me, crying “The Bright one in the highest
Is brother of the Dark one in the lowest,
And Bright and Dark have sworn that I, the child
Of thee, the great Earth-Mother, thee, the Power
That lifts her buried life from loom to bloom,
Should be for ever and for evermore
The Bride of Darkness.”

So the Shadow wail’d.
Then I, Earth-Goddess, cursed the Gods of Heaven.
I would not mingle with their feasts; to me
Their nectar smack’d of hemlock on the lips,
Their rich ambrosia tasted aconite.
The man, that only lives and loves an hour,
Seem’d nobler than their hard Eternities.
My quick tears kill’d the flower, my ravings hush’d
The bird, and lost in utter grief I fail’d
To send my life thro’ olive-yard and vine
And golden grain, my gift to helpless man.
Rain-rotten died the wheat, the barley-spears
Vere hollow-husk’d, the leaf fell, and the sun,
Pale at my grief, drew down before his time
Sickening, and tna kept her winter snow.
Then He, the brother of this Darkness, He
Who still is highest, glancing from his height
On earth a fruitless fallow, when he miss’d
The wonted steam of sacrifice, the praise
And prayer of men, decreed that thou should’st dwell
For nine white moons of each whole year with me,
Three dark ones in the shadow with thy King.

Once more the reaper in the gleam of dawn
Will see me by the landmark far away,
Blessing his field, or seated in the dusk
Of even, by the lonely threshing-floor,
Rejoicing in the harvest and the grange.
Yet I, Earth-Goddess, am but ill-content
With them, who still are highest. Those gray heads,
What meant they by their “Fate beyond the Fates”
But younger kindlier Gods to bear us down,
As we bore down the Gods before us? Gods,
To quench, not hurl the thunderbolt, to stay,
Not spread the plague, the famine; Gods indeed,
To send the noon into the night and break
The sunless halls of Hades into Heaven?
Till thy dark lord accept and love the Sun,
And all the Shadow die into the Light,
When thou shalt dwell the whole bright year with me,
And souls of men, who grew beyond their race,
And made themselves as Gods against the fear
Of Death and Hell; and thou that hast from men,
As Queen of Death, that worship which is Fear,
Henceforth, as having risen from out the dead,
Shalt ever send thy life along with mine
From buried grain thro’ springing blade, and bless
Their garner’d Autumn also, reap with me,
Earth-mother, in the harvest hymns of Earth
The worship which is Love, and see no more
The Stone, the Wheel, the dimly-glimmering lawns
Of that Elysium, all the hateful fires
Of torment, and the shadowy warrior glide
Along the silent field of Asphodel.

“Persephone the Wanderer” by Louise Glück

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth—this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

Persephone's initial
sojourn in hell continues to be
pawed over by scholars who dispute
the sensations of the virgin:

did she cooperate in her rape,
or was she drugged, violated against her will,
as happens so often now to modern girls.

As is well known, the return of the beloved
does not correct
the loss of the beloved: Persephone

returns home
stained with red juice like
a character in Hawthorne—

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
"home" to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration—

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety—

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion—
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother's
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life—

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth—

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?
“At Summer’s End, Persephone” 

parted the overgrown hedge.
There stood the tree she remembered—
still on its last limbs and still “self-pruning,”
as the tree-surgeon called it—
still the largest sweet gum in the underworld.

From the dogwood, berries dripped,
bright as blood. A frog called out
for company. The owl that hunted it
rowed the deepening dark with muffled wing.
Clinging to the front door of the house,

a moth tried to disguise itself as wood.
How had the gecko guarding the porch light
missed a last mouthful of dust?
Under its pale otherworldly skin,
throbbed a blue semiprecious stone.

In ancient gowns the months
Persephone had lost to the upper world
leaned down from heaven’s porches.
There on her own porch, in the rocking chair
where no one ever rocked,

sat the dead weight of September,
the chair ever so faintly ashudder.

Debora Greger

The Sewanee Review, Fall 2010



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Psalm 69

1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
3 I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
4 Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.

5 You, God, know my folly;
my guilt is not hidden from you.

6 Lord, the LORD Almighty,
may those who hope in you
not be disgraced because of me;
God of Israel,
may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me.
7 For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.
8 I am a foreigner to my own family,
a stranger to my own mother’s children;
9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
10 When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;
11 when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.
12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of the drunkards.

13 But I pray to you, LORD,
in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God,
answer me with your sure salvation.
14 Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.

16 Answer me, LORD, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
18 Come near and rescue me;
deliver me because of my foes.

19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

22 May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and[b] a trap.
23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.

29 But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
may your salvation, God, protect me.

30 I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the LORD more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hooves.
32 The poor will see and be glad—
you who seek God, may your hearts live!
33 The LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his captive people.

34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and all that move in them,
35 for God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;
36 the children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his name will dwell there.



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Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall. 

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering. 

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation. 

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter. 

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia. 

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it. 

I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.

Edward Hirsch

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LOOK at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
  O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
  The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!         5
  Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
  Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!—
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, aims, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!         10
  Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
  Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

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Today I went to First Street Park in Benicia for the Poets’ Picnic with my mother, artist Barbara Holthuis. Poet Laureates from cities all over the Bay read their poems and the poems they drew from baskets that had been filled by Benicia writers involved in the First Tuesday Poets. The group meets monthly at the Benicia Library.

Hearing these poems, I was reminded of when I lived in Alexandria, Virginia and participated in the Live Poets of Alexandria. The group met regularly at the Alexandria Public Library. Some of the poems I wrote then eventually became a core part of my first poetry collection, Sanctuary. 

Poet Laureates

Ronna Leon (Benicia), Deborah Grossman (Pleasanton), Janell Moon (Emeryville), Elaine Butts (San Ramon), Mary Rudge (Alameda), Juanita Martin (Fairfield), Joel Fallon (Benicia), Ruth Blakeney (Crockett), Cynthia Bryant (Pleasanton), Ronnie Holland (Dublin), Parthenia Hicks (Los Gatos), Gary Silva (Napa County), Sally Ashton (Santa Clara County), Robert Shelby (Benicia), Cher Wollard (Livermore), Allegra Silberstein (Davis), Connie Post (Livermore)

Organizer Ronna Leon, current Poet Laureate of Benicia, had a “Poem Home” where all listeners in today’s audience could pick up a poem to take home with them. Mine was by Theresa Whitehill of Ukiah.

“Gates of Winter”

The two gates of winter are guarded by the dead. All

Hallows’ Eve in early November

and Memorial Day when summer is allowed to leak

itself out into free air. Death by love, by life, by reason

on the one side, death by patriotism, by ideals, by

economy on the other.

We stand and feed the dead in order to fend off winter

and to banish it, to free ourselves of ornamental

limits. We feed the dead our memories and our

sorrows, with barbecues and sweets, with a holiday

dedicated to softening bones over a fire, chocolates

wrapped in iridescent foil. But what is it the dead

actually savor, what’s delectable once you’ve

divided yourself in two and no longer have to stand

on the hill imagining wisdom?

I have been listening to the dead and find them

difficult. They are not as articulate

as they could be. What is it that sets their skin

aflame, that causes them to flutter their eyelids

half open with helpless desire? I would think it would be

flowers, and babies, and the more expensive kind

of soap bubbles, red objects, fireworks, swooning,

those things inescapably fertile and passing. We are

this planet’s goodbye and its trident. We know how to

feed things, spirits and loneliness, structural steel

and alphabets, now we must learn somehow

to be fed.

Theresa Whitehill


On the Benicia Pier after the Poets’ Picnic

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Wild Birdsong – now available from Lulu Press! 

“In her latest collection, Jane Beal employs Japanese forms to frame her distinctive American observations. From city to forest, the birdsongs she collects ring clear and resound deep in the reader. Her poems, plain speaking and uncluttered, speak directly of everyday experience, yet shimmer with the apprehension of the numinous. Like the birds she addresses in Mercy-Robins, Beal’s poems act as a bridge between the earthly and the spiritual, until even the apparently simple assertion that ‘Life goes on and on’ (Spring Promise) becomes more than comforting reassurance, taking on a celebratory expansiveness as large as the sky that surrounds her subjects.” ~ Oz Hardwick, author of The Illuminated Dreamer

“‘Hear me! Stones have a song inside.’ So says Jane Beal in the opening poem to her new collection.  In these poems, deft and restrained amalgams of prose and haiku, Beal shows her willingness over and over again to plunge—with an affecting compassion—into the heart of each small thing to discover the songs it contains. Here, seagulls bicker and snicker, here vireos choir. Birds become in Beal’s handling winged revelators, angelic confirmations of the immanence of glory in this wondrous, wild, and skittish world. Beal’s jubilant poems show her to be a true peregrine, circling wide-eyed into fresh knowing.” ~ Kim Johnson, poet & author of A Metaphorical God

“Dr. Jane Beal sees the grace and the fallen from grace. But, just as nature is pregnant with life, Jane Beal’s Wild Birdsong reminds us that many things in life are pregnant with meaning: sorrows, joys, delights. All are, for the seeing, sacramental.” ~ Dr. Jerry Root, author of The Soul of C.S. Lewis

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