Poetry

Leonard, Will You Smoke?

Leonard Cohen in Florence in 2010 / Route66 / Shutterstock.com

Leonard Cohen in Florence in 2010 / Route66 / Shutterstock.com

On September 21, Leonard Cohen Turned 80. With or Without a Cigarette, It’s Time to Celebrate.

“I hope I stay on the road a little bit longer - but you may not be so enthusiastic when you hear my reason. You see I want to start smoking next year when I'll be 80. It's been a long barren time. I think it’s the right age to recommence.” Leonard Cohen

I dreamed you were in Florence, singing on some stage. Your back was to the men, the women by your sides. Your melody was tranquil, just humming do-re-me-fa, la-fa-re-me-do. And when there was commotion, some men quarreling behind the scene, you turned and faced them calmly, beseeching, “Gentlemen, let’s sing.”

You have left us these past months, ceased your universal tour. It gives us time to miss you, and wonder what you mean. This week you will be eighty, there’s no question, you are old. Your bones may creak or ache and I’ll guess your heart’s a little tired, but from outside looking in you seem settled in a pretty gentle space.

So in the dream your melodies kept coming, like a river from its source. “You’re doing it,” someone shouted. “It’s exactly what we want!” People were casually swaying until your voice started to get hoarse. “Well, I’m glad you like it,” you croaked joyfully, “I call this solemn mingling my little Florentine Prayer.”

mitzvah

the young rabbi, earnest and intense,
forgot to read your requested scripture passage
then, a shovel had to be asked for,
so each of us could cover you
with three mounds of warm earth
your daughter fussed a little but later went for shiva at the house
the sermon was almost too simple:
the greatest good deed is to bury the dead
for they cannot thank you
with these words, like grace before a meal
I was taught what I thought I knew—
invite those who are blind, the lame ...
and, in so doing,
you will discover worship at your table
when you welcome as a guest the throwaways of this world

Sister Lou Ella Hickman, IWBS, is a spiritual director in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Image: bread on the ground, murengstockphoto / Shutterstock

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A Million Prayers

The first time we visited my sister in her monastery
Was just after one of our sons had survived massive
Surgeries, before and during which all the monks &
Nuns in the monastery, not to mention thousands of
Other generous souls, had prayed constantly for him
And it turned out that they had gone over the million
Prayer mark for our son, which, according to the law
Of the monastery, gave him lifetime privileges. He’s
No dolt, this kid, and he took off running, to hammer
On drums, and eat the cookies on an altar, and pursue
The grim local peacocks, who were deeply aggrieved.
By the time we retrieved him he was worn and happy
And the peacocks were huddled bitterly in the maples.
Even now I sometimes wonder if he will end up there
In his golden years, maybe retiring there at age ninety
And serving as the soul who calls everyone to prayer;
He did exactly that when he was a small boy, after all.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland (Oregon) and the author most recently of The Thorny Grace of It, a collection of spiritual essays.

Image: peacock feather, Roxana Gonzalez / Shutterstock

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VIDEO: Knock Knock

Daniel Beaty is an award-winning singer, playwright, actor, author, and composer, but he is foremost a storyteller. In “The Power to Heal” (Sojourners, July 2014), editorial assistant Rebecca Kraybill talks with Beaty about how he uses stories to call us toward “the capacity to do better.”

Listen to Beaty perform “Knock Knock,” a powerful poem that tells the story of his father’s incarceration.

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Hora Tertia

On the monastery walk,
in the clear daylight after
the night of heavy rain,

I consider the moonflower:
how the big spent blooms look like
three linen tea towels rinsed and wrung out,
three yellowed towels someone meant to
pin to the line to dry.

And I consider the very air:
how yesterday’s weather seems back there
in memory, but is still out there,
a heft of warmth east of here by now,
off the continent, rolling in enormous
clouds above the Atlantic.

And I consider this waning moon:
how thin it seems this morning against
the washed blue sky, like an old pearl button,
chipped, worn smooth, but still securely fixed
behind those sheer clouds blown by weather—
though I know that it, too, is moved
and beloved.

Madeleine Mysko, a novelist and poet, is an ordained elder at Towson Presbyterian Church in Maryland.

Image: moonflower bush, Ricardo Reitmeyer / Shutterstock

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The Power to Heal

Daniel Beaty in "Through the Night"

“I AM A storyteller,” says Daniel Beaty, “and my purpose in the world is to inspire people to transform pain to power.”

He was first inspired to share his stories when his third-grade teacher showed a videotape of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Now as a writer, actor, singer, teacher, and motivational speaker, his storytelling is expressed in a dizzying array of different forms and outlets. The week in April that Sojourners’ editorial assistant Rebecca Kraybill interviewed him, Beaty was doing daily performances in Los Angeles of a one-person play he wrote on the life of performer and activist Paul Robeson, “The Tallest Tree in the Forest” (in which he plays 40 characters and sings 14 songs) and, during the day, taping for a Ford Foundation-funded documentary on work he does with children of incarcerated parents.

This was just a fortnight after Beaty finished a six-week speaking tour in support of his memoir, Transforming Pain to Power: Unlock Your Unlimited Potential (Penguin-Random House). He’s also the author of a children’s book released in December 2013 by Little, Brown and Company, Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, with graphics by award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier, which is an adaptation of a poem Beaty wrote about his experience growing up with an incarcerated father. “Knock knock down the doors that I could not” is one especially poignant line the father in the book writes to the son; it carries a call to healing and liberation that is found in all of Beaty’s work.

Kraybill talked with Beaty about the effects of mass incarceration on families, the power of a “theater sanctuary,” and how the arts call us toward “the capacity to do better.”

Rebecca Kraybill: Many people were first introduced to your work through a YouTube video of the Def Poetry Jam performance of your poem, “Knock Knock.” What inspired that poem?

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Chiaroscuro

"Elevation of the Cross," by Peter Paul Rubens

The back-lit morning wave
Clarified emerald suddenly in olive,
Then gone; forever the cry of the Christ's torso
In Rubens' "Elevation of the Cross";
A glass pepper shaker filled to overflowing
By a finger of fallen sun at the close
Of a most mundane afternoon.
Obsessed is perhaps too strong a wod

But I seek the image of emergent light
In everything, as if a life's a collection
Of a thousand thousand such events
Becomes, finally, and somehow,
Through the slippery spirit's incomprehensible means,
A perfect surrender. The desert hermit Antony
Is said to have needed no lamp
To read scripture in his cell at night, so bright
Was the manifest glow of his abandon.

Samuel Harrison, a novelist and poet, coordinates an arts ministry at St. James Episcopal Church in Ormond Beach, Fla.

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AUDIO: Sabbath Poetry Reading

The author of more than 50 books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Wendell Berry is not only a prolific writer but also a farmer and an environmental activist who holds a deep reverence for all of life and creation. In “The Harvest of Fidelity” (Sojourners, April 2014), Rose Marie Berger reviews Berry’s latest work, This Day—a collection of Sabbath poems that speak “in defense of precious things.”

Listen to Berger—Sojourners’ poetry editor—recite one of Berry’s Sabbath poems.

 

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Easter with Czeslaw Milosz: Cento

From white villages Easter bells resound.
Rejoice! Give thanks! I raise my voice
Evil disappears from the world.
And that means somewhere God must be.
So that for a short moment there is no death.
If only everything kept happening in such a way
And a garden of forgiveness gathered all of us
Who doubted the goodness of Creation.

Kathleen Gunton is a poet, fiction writer, and photographer in Orange, Calif. This cento is composed of lines from Czeslaw Milosz’ New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001.

Image: Church bells, Alan Bailey / Shutterstock.com 

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