Keeping Quiet

Now we will all count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

                        -Pablo Neruda

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A Few Turns Of The Moon

For all the hardships that life throws at us, I have always felt that life keeps living. Perhaps not in the same form or in a way that is recognizable. But life keeps pulsing under everything. And no matter the pain or confusion I face, something in me keeps reaching for that irrepressible pulse. This poem comes from my reaching.

A FEW TURNS OF THE MOON

From the balcony of this restaurant, I watch
a hundred lives below: burrowing and laughing
and finding their way. And perhaps because
I’ve lost my father and our beloved dog in the
last year, perhaps because at sixty-three, I see
over the final hill more clearly, I also see the
hundreds on the other side, still burrowing
and laughing and finding their way. I don’t
know if this is alarming or a comfort: that
we go on the same, that the gleam pressed
out of every hardship is the jewel of existence,
here and on the other side. So I spoon my
soup and sip my wine, knowing the balcony
is the gutter and the gutter is the balcony,
that the dark waits all curled up in the light,
and the light, thank God, waits all curled up
in the dark.
~Mark Nepo

Now That We Have Tasted Hope

Now that we have come out of hiding,
Why would we live again in the tombs we’d made out of our souls?

And the sundered bodies that we’ve reassembled
With prayers and consolations,
What would their torn parts be, other than flesh?

Now that we have tasted hope
And dressed each other’s wounds with the legends of our
oneness
Would we not prefer to close our mouths forever shut
On the wine that swilled inside them?

Having dreamed the same dream,
Having found the water behind a thousand mirages,
Why would we hide from the sun again
Or fear the night sky after we’ve reached the ends of
darkness,
Live in death again after all the life our dead have given us?

Listen to me Zow’ya, Beida, Ajdabya, Tobruk, Nalut,
Listen to me Derna, Musrata, Benghazi, Zintan,
Listen to me houses, alleys, courtyards, and streets that
throng my veins,
Some day soon, in your freed light, in the shade of your
proud trees,
Your excavated heroes will return to their thrones in your
martyrs’ squares,
Lovers will hold each other’s hands.

I need not look far to imagine the nerves dying,
Rejecting the life that blood sends them.
I need not look deep into my past to seek a thousand hopeless vistas.
But now that I have tasted hope
I have fallen into the embrace of my own rugged innocence.

How long were my ancient days?
I no longer care to count.
I no longer care to measure.
How bitter was the bread of bitterness?
I no longer care to recall.

Now that we have tasted hope, this hard-earned crust,
We would sooner die than seek any other taste to life,
Any other way of being human.
~Khaled Mattawa

Accepting Heaven at Great Basin

When you doubt the world
look at the undivided darkness

look at Wheeler Peak
cliffs like suspended prayers

contemplate the cerulean
the gleaming limestone

the frozen shades
the wildflowers

look at the bristlecone pine
a labyrinth to winding wonders

listen to the caves
sing silently

remember the smell of sagebrush
after a thunderstorm

that Lexington Arch
is a bridge of questions

in the solitude of dreams
that here

distances disturb desire
to deliver a collision of breaths

the desert echoes
in this dark night sky

stars reveal the way
a heart can light a world.
-Nathalie Handal

About This Poem

“I’m an urbanite but when I started teaching at the low-residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and discovered the numinous openness of Nevada, something unnamed untangled me. Standing under the crisp golden-red light then the infinite dark at Great Basin for the first time felt like being in the middle of my heart and asking, where do I go from here? Where does one go after they’ve lived wars, been too close to death’s shadows, and then sees a version of heaven? Can we give ourselves permission to inhale its glory without betraying those who couldn’t flee, or didn’t survive? Perhaps we are meant to see such wonder to inform us of how beauty resists.”
—Nathalie Handal

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysterious too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stone are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
~Mary Oliver

WHERE NO ONE STAYS A STATUE

It was a sunny day
and I went to the park
and sat on a bench. I was
one of many coming out
from under our rocks
to warm and lengthen.

He was two benches down,
a gentle older man
staring off into the place
between things, beyond
any simple past, staring
into the beginning or the end,
it was hard to say.

When he came up
our eyes met
and he knew I’d seen him
journey there and back.

There was no point in looking away.
And so, he shuffled over
and sat beside me. The sun
moved behind the one cloud
and he finally said
in half a quiver, “How
can we go there together?”

I searched my small mind
for an answer. At this,
he looked away and the sun came out
and I realized this is what the lonely
sages of China were talking about,
what the moon has whispered
before turning full for centuries,
what dancers leap for, what violinists
dream after fevering their last note.

But I was awkward and unsure.
He stared, as if to search my will,
and after several minutes,
he just patted my knee
and left.

I watched him
darken and brighten in the sun,
and vowed to look
in the folds of every cry
for a way through,
and hope someday
to meet him there.
~Mark Nepo

Forgotten

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Forgotten

My greatest fear is that I will pass away before my time,
only to exist long into the future in a dank fog of worries
and drowsy superficialities that grudgingly hold down by the throat
all the joys that surge to live in me from beneath the sadnesses
that I talk, talk, talk at rather than gather myself to sit before
when they have need to speak to me enduringly
of what I have forgotten to feel.
-Stephanie Unger