The Thing Is (A Poem by Ellen Bass)

I love these words, written by Ellen Bass, American Poet and Writer. Because they speak to the difficulty that so many of us know, that I know. Because these words speak to the simple of going on, that so many of us know, that I know.

I love the book that contains this poem, How Lovely The Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times, that was recently loaned to my by a new friend. I love having such a friend.


The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, it’s tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think. How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, not violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you again.

Pray For Peace (Thank you Shawna LeMay and Ellen Bass)

Spring has sprung where I live. Crocus have come and gone. Daffodils are plentiful. The first tulips have appeared. Grass is greening. Last year’s lettuce and kale are boldly returning. Trees are flowering, like this one in my front yard. These blossoms are abundant now — pinks and whites waking to the season.

I can find in me the dimension that is seeking waking. And synergy of beauty.

Every now and then I peek into Shawna LeMay’s site and blog, Transactions With Beauty. I quite love her writing. I quite love her thinking. I adore her photos — just noticeably good shots of flowers that move me instantly.

Recently Shawna posted a poem by Ellen Bass, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. The poem is called, Pray For Peace. I love it’s breadth. I love it’s earthiness. I love it’s invitation to the simple and the involved.


Waking. Beauty. Prayers. Peace.


Pray for Peace

by Ellen Bass

Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.

Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.

If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.

When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas–

With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.