Reading poetry is one of the ways some of us nourish our faith, a way we set or reset our inner compass and stay focused on the big picture, on the spiritual journey. Over the years, poetry has become an important part of my spiritual journey. In this monthly column, ‘Setting the Inner Compass,’ I will share some of the poems I find nourishing to the soul. All of the poems resonate on their own. Sometimes, like this month, the poems share a common theme.
The three poems in July remind us of the beauty of ordinary things: collard greens, blackbirds, and peaches. In these poems, each of these things affirm, in Lucille Clifton’s words, “the bond of living things everywhere”. The poet invites us to see something extraordinary in the ordinary, something transcendent in the everyday.
I thank the publishers for generously granting permission to use these poems. I offer a very special thanks to Julie Cadwallader-Staub for permission to publish her wonderful poem, “Blackbirds”.
“cutting greens” by Lucille Clifton
curling them around
i hold their bodies in obscene embrace
thinking of everything but kinship.
collards and kale
strain against each strange other
away from my kissmaking hand and
the iron bedpot.
the pot is black,
the cutting board is black,
and just for a minute
the greens roll black under the knife,
and the kitchen twists dark on its spine
and I taste in my natural appetite
the bond of live things everywhere.
“Blackbirds” by Julie Cadwallader-Staub
I am 52 years old, and have spent
truly the better part
of my life out-of-doors
but yesterday I heard a new sound above my head
a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward
I saw a flock of blackbirds
rounding a curve I didn’t know was there
and the sound was simply all those wings
just feathers against air, against gravity
and such a beautiful winning
the whole flock taking a long, wide turn
as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
Oh, if we lived only in human society
with its cruelty and fear
its apathy and exhaustion
what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being
here, in this curving and soaring world
so that when, every now and then, mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives
and when, even more rarely, we manage to unite and move together
toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be.
“FROM BLOSSOMS” by LI-YOUNG Lee
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
“cutting greens” by Lucille Clifton from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. © Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of the Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of BOA editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
“Blackbirds” by Julie Cadwallader Staub is used with the poet’s permission. Her website is: www.juliecspoetry.com.
“From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, on behalf of BOA Editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
Rev. Dave Brown is the creator/host of Blues Vespers and a member of the PCUSA Public Education Roundtable. Dave along with Rabbi Ted Falcon and Imam Jamal Rahman offer programs about interfaith in the Pacific Northwest as the PNW Interfaith Amigos. He is the former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WA.