Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rumi's "wedding night"

It is December 17, the date Rumi lovers call his wedding night, for it is when he went to join the Beloved, the day he died in Konya, forever ending the agony of separateness:

A craftsman pulled a reed from the reedbed,
cut holes in it, and called it a human being.

Since then, it has been wailing
a tender agony of parting,
never mentioning the skill
that gave it life as a flute.

The earth is frozen around me, feeling as if Life has gone. But Rumi's call is always to that inner heat that brings spring to the spirit.

Outside, the freezing desert night.
This other night inside grows warm, kindling.
Let the landscape be covered with thorny crust.
We have a soft garden in here.
The continents blasted,
cities and little towns, everything
become a scorched, blackened ball.

The news we hear is full of grief for that future,
but the real news inside here
is there's no news at all.

* * *
This is the day and the year of the rose.
The whole garden is opening with laughter.  
Iris whispering to cypress.
The rose is the joy of meeting someone. 
The rose is a world imagination cannot imagine.
A messenger from the orchard where the soul lives.  
A small seed that points to a great rose tree.
Hold its hand and walk like a child.  
A rose is what grows from the work the prophets do.
Full moon, new moon. 
Accept the invitation spring extends,
four birds flying toward a master.  
A rose is all these,
and the silence that closes and sits in the shade, a bud. 

And lest we forget, the cycle goes back the other way, too. The full moon becomes less. The flower opens so far that it falls, petal by petal, becoming the ground. If there's one thing Rumi's taught me, it is that when one thing comes, its seeming opposite is also right there coming behind. The wise man followed by the fool, crying followed by laughter. There is an ocean, and all of experience is in it, all different ways of knowing God. We're in a river flowing toward it.

My worst habit is I get so tired of winter
I become a torture to those I'm with.

If you are not here, nothing grows.
I lack clarity. My words
tangle and knot up.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools,
dig a way out through the bottom
to the ocean. There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they can't hope.

The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.

Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
no matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back toward you.

Another year closes, just one of our inept categories, like insufficient words to express the mystery we follow. Truly, every next moment begins a new year. Go back to the river. Start flowing again.

Maybe this is one reason I love winter: It feels like a clean page.

— all Rumi translated by Coleman Barks

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

English advising office

Outside, below my sixth
floor window, campus sits
in a snow globe, just shaken.

Black figures walk
precariously, cars and buses
creep along lines of a mini-world.

But I am the one inside,
helping students plan next semester,
to peer into worlds of Whitman,

Thoreau, Wilde, past the glass
of their own bubble,
which I discern from my side

of the desk—tapping, turning
it ‘round and ‘round,
seeing what parts are movable

and which are fixed, and in my own
pleasure, seeing ahead in that crystal
that if they are lucky, when they step

from sphere to sphere, each writer
will shake loose what happily
obscures our all-too-clear vision

Monday, December 2, 2013

A walk at the beginning of winter

I leave the house, pass
the dried hydrangea and
the sunflower, black, lying on its side,
pokeberry stems crumpling
to the ground, branches and trees
snapped in the storm,
their raw points
straddling a new age.

Walking through leaves
my eye falls on a few—
silvery Russian olive,
spread loosely like a pattern
on a hall runner, gingerbread
oak and fans of poplar,
caught and hunched
at the wall of meadow grass—

and, quickly forgotten,
soon buried under falling snow,
they are as all the days
of all the years fallen since
I lay alone in childhood, the first   
to bed, lamplight from the street
twisting shapes and the day’s
play into amplified terrors:

Will I die in fire?
Will a tornado tear the house
      up by the roots?
Will cold fingers touch and clutch
     my arm?

In the dark we played combat
around the Methodist church,
where Nazis hid in brick
and shrub. And now
in the black woods
behind our field at night
they are almost visible,
running to me.

In daylight I round
the meadow path
at the foot of those trees
where lies a soldier
in army green. He looks
like last year’s fallen tree,
sweatered in moss. I step
over him. I step over him

as winter steps over autumn,
without compunction,
as God steps over the earth
in the wind, not pausing
as he snaps us free