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Between the Lines

Between the Lines

Poetry and prose that connect us

Sometimes it can be difficult to express the emotions we are feeling. At times like this we can often find others who have expressed it for us, through painting, sculpture, poetry or prose. On this page we will regularly add a poem or piece of prose that might express our experience, give us pause for reflection, or simply share in how words can bring us together.

In this week's poem,  Danna Faulds Allow, the poet asks us to pay attention to our attempt to control the course of nature and the course of our lives. 
At a time when we are being asked to notice the impact humans are having on the world whilst at the same time feeling at the mercy of nature, in the form of a virus, how would it be to simply let go of our attempts to control?


Allow         By Danna Faulds

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes


HOKUSAI SAYS
By Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.
He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says everyone of us is a child,
everyone of us is ancient,
everyone of us has a body.
He says everyone of us is frightened.
He says everyone of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive–
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.



In this week's poem Mary Oliver challenges how we rewrite the world to be more palatable.  Do we avoid looking at the difficulty of life? or feel obliged to make things prettier? How would it be to accept and embrace it all?

Singapore       By Mary Oliver

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.
Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.
A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.
Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor, which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.
I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop and fly down to the river.
This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?
Of course, it isn’t.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

 



R.S. Thomas is considered one of the leading modern Welsh poets, although his style has been compared with the country's harsh and rugged terrain. Thomas stated he sought to demonstrate man's spirituality in his poetry, he was a Christian priest who often experienced God more as absence than as presence, but longed for assurance.  Louis Sasso wrote of him "Thomas's poems are sturdy, worldly creations filled with compassion, love, doubt and irony. They make one feel joy in being part of the human raise." 

In Threshold he couldn’t have imagined the coronavirus pandemic we are living through today, and yet his words (which, okay, refer to bacteria) seem very much ‘of the moment’.  How very poignant the longing for ‘reciprocating touch’ has become! How would it feel to write down your own experience during this time – perhaps especially about being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of touch? See what you think?

 

Threshold          By R. S. Thomas

I emerge from the mind’s
cave into the worse darkness
outside, where things pass and
the Lord is in none of them.
I have heard the still, small voice
and it was that of the bacteria
demolishing my cosmos. I
have lingered too long on
this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul
I was leading upwards towards
the light. To look forward? Ah,
what balance is needed at
the edges of such an abyss.
I am alone on the surface
of a turning planet. What
to do but, like Michelangelo’s
Adam, put my hand
out into unknown space,
hoping for the reciprocating touch?


This week's poem feels like a response to the events of 2020.  It offers us all an invitation to look within, but also recognise each other, as we find our way through these times together.


(Painting: Brave Soup by Matthew Dibble)

Invitation to Brave Space   

by Micky Scottbey-Jones (published in Little Spaces of Hope)

Together we will create brave space.
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world.
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love.
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be.
But
It will be our brave space together,
and
We will work on it side by side.



This week's poem we shared in a recent live Mindfulness session.  It chimes with a quote by the CEO in an article a few weeks ago: “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”   Pablo Neruda's poem gives us pause to reflect on what we might find in the silence, if we all just stopped "doing" for a moment and noticed what it feels like simply to be living.







Now we will 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 a 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.
Fishermen 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...
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.
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

 
This week we are sharing Dr Maya Angelou reading her own powerful  poem - "The Mask."



“The Mask,”  - Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile but oh my God
Our tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing Oh Baby doll, now we sing…
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.

When I think about myself
I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke!
A dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke.
I laugh so hard HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So…I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh…
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.

My fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank.
And they gnarled like broken candles,
All waxed and burned profound.
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.

My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

They laugh to conceal their crying,
They shuffle through their dreams
They stepped ’n fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.
I understand their meaning,
It could an did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

This powerful poem was written to honour a specific woman of colour, and serves to give insight into the painful experience of many.  Giving us pause to consider how some  people have to hide their pain and struggle to protect themselves from judgement and preserve their dignity in the face of cruelty.  It also leaves me thinking about the masks we all wear from time to time; the emotions we hide from others; pain, sadness, distress.  Do we do this to protect others or to protect ourselves?  Are there times in your life when you have worn a mask? 

Here is the original poem Maya refers to in her version.

We Wear the Mask       By Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!




A Portable Paradise       Roger Robinson

(This Anglo-Caribbean poet, has just won the 2019-2020 T.S.Eliot Poetry Prize)
And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.



In Praise of Craziness of a Certain Kind        by Mary Oliver

On cold evenings
my grandmother,
with ownership of half her mind -
the other half having flown back to Bohemia -
spread newspapers over the porch floor
so, she said, the garden ants could crawl beneath,
as under a blanket, and keep warm,
and what shall I wish for, for myself,
but, being so struck by the lightning of years,
to be like her with what is left, that loving.



Has something precious broken. Perhaps a favourite vase … perhaps an important relationship … perhaps your own body, or the body (or mind) of someone you love … perhaps a sense of your whole life being shattered. Is that brokenness the end of the story? 





Blessing for a Broken Vessel    by Jan Richardson

Do not despair.
You hold the memory
of what it was to be whole.
It lives deep
in your bones.
It abides
in your heart
that has been torn
and mended
a hundred times.
It persists
in your lungs
that know the mystery
of what it means
to be full,
to be empty,
to be full again.
I am not asking you
to give up your grip
on the shards you clasp
so close to you
but to wonder
what it would be like
for those jagged edges
to meet each other
in some new pattern
that you have never imagined,
that you have never dared
to dream.


How might what is broken live again, become something new? You might want to paint an image that comes to mind - or write about it.


To learn more about the Japanese Art, why not read Grief, Kintsugi and the art of precious scars, Can our grief shape us but also add to the beauty of who we are?




Rumi is a 13th century Sufi poet, who asks us to accept all our experiences and moods and feelings as opportunities, instead of pushing away the ones we don’t like. He uses the very powerful image of each person as a guesthouse, to which all comers are welcomed. This is a pretty tall order! We typically deny or distract ourselves from those bits of ourselves we don’t like, or from feelings we find uncomfortable.  Perhaps today is the day to take courage and write about the ‘guests’ we find it hard to welcome to our personal guesthouse. What would it take to befriend these bothersome visitors?


The Guest House    Jalal a-Din Rumi


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.





Between the Lines Poetry Archive

Between The Lines - Past Poems

The Peace of Wild Things - Wendell Berry: Sea Glass - Bernadette Knoll: Warning - Jenny Joseph