The following poems reflect some aspect of the four stages of group formation experienced in Community Building Workshops — or more accurately, a mixture of stages. While we have organized them according to the stage they emphasize most, you might keep an eye on how they transition between stages. Very often, that’s where they have the most to say.
A Note for Facilitators
We do not use these poems in Community Building Workshops. Generally, a story is read at the very beginning of the Workshop. And more often than not, that story is a version of Francis Dorff’s The Rabbi’s Gift. The purpose of the story is to give the group something to substitute for an agenda where there is no agenda — at least not a conventional one. Without the story, the group’s discomfort with the its relatively leaderless, emergent format is excessive and can be counterproductive.
We usually recommend against using any other story than The Rabbi’s Gift. This is for two reasons:
- First, the story really doesn’t matter that much. It’s just a placeholder so the group has something to discuss where no agenda has been provided. The sincere hope is that they transition from talking about the story to talking about themselves without wasting too much time stewing on the story.
- Second, when Facilitators select a new story to begin the Workshop with it is often because they have become tired of the old story or because they want to make some sort of impression on the group. Either way, the change is being triggered by a Facilitator’s own ego-drama which is no way to begin guiding the group toward Community.
Pseudo Community is where we wash dishes and build bridges. It is also the final destination of Community Building. As counterintuitive as it seems, the difficult work we do cycling through the stages allows us to arrive where we started and, as TS Elliot puts it, “to know the place for the first time.” Without the skills we learn from experiences like Community Building, most people are unable to rise naturally to the challenge of Pseudo Community. Chaos surfaces and is stuffed — surfaces and is stuffed — over, and over, and over again — until Pseudo Community, which was once light and productive, becomes heavy and hard to move in. What turns Pseudo Community against us is how we handle Chaos — leaning against it (in a fight response) or away from it (in a flight response). Few people are very good at leaning toward Chaos (in a collaborative response). Preschool children, great artists, contemplatives, and Community builders, notes Ellen Stephensare the exception. They see beyond convention to what is real.
- The man pulling radishes / pointed the way / with a radish. (Issa)
- The saddest are those not right in their lives/who are acting to make things right for others (William Stafford)
On the Yard
By Etheridge Knight
fresh from the Hole
slid into me
with his eyes
and said, “Man,
why ain’t you
I sat up
wrote 5,000 words
was doing something
but the slim cat –
it – nor
You Have to be Careful
By Naomi Shihab Nye
You have to be careful telling things.
Some ears are tunnels.
Your words will go in and get lost in the dark.
Some ears are flat pans like the miners used
looking for gold.
What you say will be washed out with the stones.
You look for a long time till you find the right ears.
Till then, there are birds and lamps to be spoken to,
a patient cloth rubbing shine in circles,
and the slow, gradually growing possibility
that when you find such ears
they already know.
I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty
I Laugh When I Hear That The Fish In The Water is Thirsty.
You don’t grasp the fact that what is most alive of all is inside your own house;
and you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!
Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet;
if you can’t find where your soul is hidden,
for you the world will never be real!
My My My What A Mystery Neighbor Is Probably Not A Psychokiller Although One Never Knows Until
By Rachel Levitsky
On the floor on that side is one one never sees,
never hears. I think I know what he looks like.
I suspect I make him better in the head
It’s too little,
his impact on the air.
I suspect he likes alternative rock
works with computers
and is straight
has had a girlfriend only once.
Maybe he has her now.
Thinking of him begs the question: how much one can
Shield away from display past the door.
In Truffaut’s Domicile Conjugl (aka Bed and Board)
there is the neighbor who everyone talks about as
One day he’s seen doing impersonations on TV.
The neighbors rush him, asking, “But why didn’t you tell us?”
By Rainer Maria Rilke
It’s OK for the rich and the lucky to keep still,
no one wants to know about them anyway.
But those in need have to step forward,
have to say: I am blind,
or: I’m about to go blind,
or: nothing is going well with me,
or: I have a child who is sick,
or: right there I’m sort of glued together. . .
And probably that doesn’t do anything either.
They have to sing, if they didn’t sing, everyone
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees.
That’s where you can hear good singing.
People really are strange: they prefer
to hear castratos in boychoirs.
But God himself comes and stays a long time
when the world of half-people start to bore him.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other
By William Stafford
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes, no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
- I was entering into a feeling of absolute chaos, and had to grab the closest thing I could find (Rachel Levitsky)
- It matters that this disaster began with an idea (Rachel Levitsky)
- Love is a more complicated thing / when I am speaking of my neighbor (Rachel Levitsky)
- Even in good men [and women] there is a lawless wild beast which peers out in sleep (Plato)
- There is a madman inside of you/Who is always running for office – Why vote him in? (Hafez)
- Ego is incapable of splitting the object without a corresponding splitting taking place within the ego (Melanie Klein)
- It’s your distracted, lovelorn heart/That asks these questions constantly. (Hafez)
- For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst? (Kahlil Gibran)
By Susan Dane
It starts as a small little thing,
indignation at a trespass,
anger, having been wronged.
It grows into a flag,
parading first down small streets,
sweeping up the meanderers,
then avenues and winning crowds,
cheers along the way.
It writes an anthem,
builds a campaign.
Marching through the mind
it settles thoroughly in memory and vein,
changing our posture,
the way we hold our chin.
By the time it reaches bone,
it has eaten through sinew and spine,
cost us all that was benign.
Then, rises up the starless night,
no song no light.
we want it out:
cut, poison, burn the blighted stem.
But rampant right breeds cell on cell
out of control,
And having eaten heart
it eats the soul.
Tired of Speaking Sweetly
Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.
If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.
Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth
That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,
Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.
God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.
The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.
But when we hear
He is in such a “playful drunken mood”
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.
By Wendell Berry
Though the air is full of singing
my head is loud
with the labor of words.
Though the season is rich
with fruit, my tongue
hungers for the sweet of speech.
Though the beech is golden
I cannot stand beside it
mute, but must say
“It is golden,” while the leaves
stir and fall with a sound
that is not a name.
It is in the silence
that my hope is, and my aim.
A song whose lines
I cannot make or sing
sounds men’s silence
like a root. Let me say
and not mourn: the world
lives in the death of speech
and sings there.
By Etheridge Knight
— for Etheridge Bombata and Mary Tandiwe
Once upon a today and yesterday and nevermore there were 7 men and women all locked / up in prison cells. Now these 7 men and women were innocent of any crimes; they were in prison because their skins were black. Day after day, the prisoners paced their cells, pining for their freedom. And the nonblack jailers would laugh at the prisoners and beat them with sticks and throw their food on the floor. Finally, prisoner #1 said, “I will educate myself and emulate the non-colored people, That is the way to freedom – c’mon, you guys, and follow me.” “Hell, no,” said prisoner #2. “The only way to get free is to pray to my god and he will deliver you like he delivered Daniel from the lion’s den, so unite and follow me.” “Bullshit,” said prisoner #3. “The only way / out is thru this tunnel I’ve been quietly digging, so c’mon, and follow me.” “Uh- uh,” said prisoner #4, “that’s too risky. The only right / way is to follow all the rules and don’t make the non-colored people angry, so c’mon brothers and sisters and unite behind me.” “Fuck you!” said prisoner #5. “The only way / out is to shoot our way out, if all of you get / together behind me.” “No,” said prisoner #6, “all of you are incorrect; you have not analyzed the political situation by my scientific method and historical meemeejeebee. All we have to do is wait long enough and the bars will bend from their own inner rot. That is the only way.” “All of you are crazy,” cried prisoner #7. “I’ll get out by myself, by ratting on the rest of you to the non- colored people. That is the way, that is the only way!” “No-no,” they / all cried, “come and follow me. I have the / way, the only way to freedom.” And so they argued, and to this day they are still arguing; and to this day they are still in their prison cells, their stomachs / trembling with fear.
By Etheridge Knight
I done shot dope, been to jail, swilled
wine, ripped off sisters, passed bad checks,
changed my name, howled at the moon,
wrote poems, turned
backover flips, flipped over backwards
(in other words)
I been confused, fucked up, scared, phony
to a whole / lot of people …
In one way or another?
Everybody else wanna cop-out?
When A Hideous Man Becomes a Father
By Chuang Tzu
When a hideous man becomes a father
And a son is born to him
In the middle of the night
He trembles and lights a lamp
And runs to look in anguish
On that child’s face
To see whom he resembles.
There is a Madman Inside of You
There is a madman inside of you
Who is always running for office – Why vote him in?
He never keeps the accounts straight.
He gets all kinds of crooked deals happening all over town
That will just give you a big headache and glue to your kisser
A gigantic confused frown.
The Need to Win
By Chuang Tzu
When an archer is shooting for nothing
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or sees two targets—
He is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize
Divides him. He cares.
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting—
And the need to win
Drains him of power.
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Sometimes a dream lands so hard it flattens you.
I liked it better before, you moan,
waving my dream like a silk handkerchief, light and soundless above my head.
It could have been anything, a kite, a bird, a large balloon with three passengers.
Instead, it landed in your lap, you asked for it,
secretly you had been reeling it in for months like a trapped fish.
Too big for the net-
it loves you more than you love it.
It wants to stay here forever, smiling and cuddling
in the bosom of your days.
Who Makes These Changes?
Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right.
It lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself
chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
and end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others
and fall in.
I should be suspicious
of what I want.
- You have it all when just a share of beauty comes to you. (Pindar)
- Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks (Kahlil Gibran)
- Enlightenment, joy, and peace can never be given to you by another. The well is inside you. (Thich Nhat Hahn)
- When the violin can forgive the past It starts singing. (Hafez)
- Love/Is the great work/Though every heart is first an/Apprentice/that slaves beneath the city of Light (Hafiz)
- When someone deeply listens to you/the room where you stay/starts a new life (John Fox)
- Muddy water let stand becomes clear. (Lao Tzu)
- Hold it / That ordinariness / Hold / as it / Hurts, cracks, caresses, saves / us (Kathi Brown-Favrot)
- Can I see another’s woe/And not be in sorrow too (Blake)
- As we in-ly are (Emerson)
- The result of opening is always a letting go. (David Richo)
To Know the Dark,/h4>
By Wendell Berry
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
Every Word I Pick Here
By Lee van Laer
Every word I pick here
Is the wrong one, one
I’ve used too often,
Touched by thought
Until it’s worn and tired.
I need some unknown language
To roll down mountains,
Well up from deep water,
Its letters curled like seashells:
Sharp and spiny, worn and smooth.
It should shape the sound of angels
Whispering in chorus,
laying echoes brick by brick
Against the silence of these prayers
I cannot ever speak.
Then deep inside, I’ll praise
A better soul than me:
The one who knows the syllables
I cannot find. That poet only
Rules my heart.
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend
By Rainier Maria Rilke
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colours
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,
leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so helplessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs —
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.
From How I Became a Madman
By Kahlil Gibran
One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,–the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,–I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”
Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.
And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.
By Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
In a Dark Time
By Theodore Roethke
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.
Where is God?
By Mark Nepo
It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.
It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.
By Mark Nepo
Heavy drops, carrying more
than they can bear, fall from no-
where, bending leaves already
sagging, and one by one,
the leaves let go.
They drift to the earth,
each quiet as a master
juggler missing everything so
completely that he realizes
he is being juggled.
Surrender is like this.
Not giving up, but
missing and letting go.
Dear one, Wise Up
When the violin can forgive the past it starts singing.
When the violin can stop worrying about the future
You will become such a drunk laughing nuisance
That God will then lean down and start combing you into His hair.
When the violin can forgive every wound caused by others
The heart starts singing.
By Nikki Giovanni
i used to dream militant dreams
of taking over america
to show these white folks how it should be done
i used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away
with my perceptive powers of correct analysis
i even used to think
id be the one to stop the riot and negotiate the peace
then i awoke and dug
that if i dreamed natural dreams
of being a natural woman
doing what a woman does
when she’s natural
i would have a revolution
The Snow Man
By Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
the spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
By Theodore Roethke
My secrets cry aloud.
I have no need for tongue.
My heart keeps open house,
My doors are widely swung.
An epic of the eyes
My love, with no disguise.
My truths are all foreknown,
This anguish self-revealed.
I’m naked to the bone,
With nakedness my shield.
Myself is what I wear:
I keep the spirit spare.
The anger will endure,
The deed will speak the truth
In language strict and pure.
I stop the lying mouth:
Rage warps my clearest cry
To witless agony.
Daddy, What Color is Thunder?
By Charles Rossiter
for Erika 5/4/70 -8/7/89
And you were there, in the wrong place
at the wrong time, innocent, midday,
on a familiar two lane road and probably
singing along with the radio
Erika, I see you everywhere, in the mirror,
my eyes are your eyes, my body –
the body you once had, now ashes
in the sea. Be still, daughter
the tides will take you
You will know the color of thunder.
When Someone Deeply Listens to You
By John Fox
When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.
When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind’s eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered.
When someone deeply listens to you
your barefeet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.
The Idea of Ancestry
By Etheridge Knight
Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins (1st & 2nd), nieces, and nephews. They stare across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know their dark eyes, they know mine. I know their style, they know mine. I am all of them, they are all of me; they are farmers, I am thief, I am me, they are thee. I have at one time or another been in love with my mother, 1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum), and 5 cousins. I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece (she sends me letters written in large block print, and her picture is the only one that smiles at me).
I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews, and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say). He’s discussed each year when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in the clan, he is an empty space. My father’s mother, who is 93 and who keeps the Family Bible with everybody’s birth dates (and death dates) in it, always mentions him. There is no place in her Bible for “whereabouts unknown.”
Each fall the graves of my grandfathers call me, the brown hills and red gullies of mississippi send out there electric messages, galvanizing my genes. Last yr / like a salmon quitting t he could ocean – leaping and bucking up his birthstream / I hitchhiked my way from LA with 16 caps in my pocket and a monkey on my back. And I almost kicked it with the kinfolks. I walked barefooted in my grandmother’s backyard / I smelled the
land and the woods / I sipped cornwhiskey from fruit jars with the
I flirted with the women / I had a ball till the caps ran out
and my habit came down. That night I looked at my grandmother and split / my guts were screaming for junk / but I was almost contented / I had almost caught up with me.
(The next day in Memphis I cracked a croaker’s crib for a fix.)
This yr there is a gray stone wall damming my stream, and when the falling leaves stir my genes, I pace my cell or flop on my bunk and stare at 47 black faces across the space. I am all of them, they are all of me, I am me, they are thee, and I have no children to float in the space between.
Do You Have the Patience to Wait
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
The Odes of Solomon
By Mechthild of Macdeburg
A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air,
In the fire of creation,
Gold doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
Must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?
By Denise Levertov
When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
By Mark Nepo
What if, on the first sunny day,
on your way to work, a colorful bird
sweeps in front of you down a
street you’ve never heard of.
You might pause and smile,
a sweet beginning to your day.
Or you might step into that street
and realize there are many ways to work.
You might sense the bird knows some-
thing you don’t and wander after.
You might hesitate when the bird
turns down an alley. For now
there is a tension: Is what the
bird knows worth being late?
You might go another block or two,
thinking you can have it both ways.
But soon you arrive at the edge
of all your plans.
The bird circles back for you
and you must decide which
appointment you were
born to keep.
By Susan Dane
If you want to hear the mountains,
do exactly as I say.
There are rules to things like this.
And I tell you that many
have come this way more than once
and have not heard them yet.
You must leave Lima early.
The flight at five will get you there by six,
before the morning fog wraps Cuzco thick.
When that first crest of snowcaps rises
you’ll feel the thinness of your breath.
A quiet ache will settle in the chest.
Do not stop for Indian trinkets.
Drink the coca tea and then go straight to bed.
At four you rise to start again,
this time by train.
But do not think that you are almost there.
The ride will take six hours:
switchbacks laced with waterfalls
and clustered sheep. Sit on the left
to see the Indians wrapped in layered rainbows,
black bowler hats and braids,
spinning llama yarn outside their homes,
the wisdom of their people lost
except when kings return in dreams
and speak about the stones.
At the base of Machu Pichu
there will be five hundred tourists
bursting from the train
like subway riders.
Step aside. Let them push.
Look up to the right
and see the cavern homes where mothers nursed,
and children scattered ants for play.
Listen to the river rushing madly to you;
listen to the rising of your own breath.
There are no other sounds.
There are no birds. No chatter here.
When you can feel the pulse beneath your feet,
then start the climb, the way you must, on foot.
You are the silent stranger coming to this time.
And all the mountains are waiting.
Through a thousand years of solitude,
they have all been pressing toward this moment
of your coming, of your coming.
A Chat with My Father
By David Bottoms
Sometimes when my old man tries to talk, his mind runs like a small boy
on a path through the woods.
You know the story. There’s home to get to, and it’s getting late,
only a little light still slicing through the trees.
And the boy has walked the path so many times,
he thinks he can do it in his sleep. But no. Some bird sounds off
way back in the woods, and he tries to ignore it, but it harps again,
and suddenly he’s off the path, deeper and deeper
into the trees, wading the shadows, following the strangest
and most beautiful birdsong he’s ever heard
until he crosses a stream and catches in the corner of his eye
a ruby as big as his fist, sure, a ruby or some rock
just as precious, and bends to pick it up when a wild dog …
no, not a dog, when a wolf barks across a gully,
and he’s beating his way through brush and briar,
trailing those barks and howls already fading
in the distance. All the while the woods have grown dark,
and suddenly he looks across the table,
and you see in his eyes that he’s lost.
Whoever finds love
beneath hurt and grief
disappears into emptiness
with a thousand new disguises
On the Ridge
By Mark Nepo
We can grow by simply listening,
the way the tree on
that ridge listens its branches
to the sky, the way blood
listens its flow to the site
of a wound, the way you
listen like a basin when
my head so full of grief
can’t look you in the eye.
We can listen our way out
of anger, if we let the heart
soften the wolf we keep in-
side. We can last by listening
deeply, the way roots reach for
the next inch of earth, the way
an old turtle listens all he hears
into the pattern of his shell.
The Peace of Wild Things
By Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
To Any Reader
By Robert Louis Stevenson
As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.
What It Takes
By Lisa Starr
All it takes is one blue rowboat tied to a buoy,
and its reflection, and this moment
for me to go remembering everything.
Then a murmur, the sound of water lapping,
the breeze snapping, and the way the leaves
resist the letting go, or don’t…
the wheels of a bicycle soaring downhill
with some gravity-glad rider—
all of it, all of it complicit.
What I’m talking about is the sheer, shimmering
faith of the rope that connects the boat to the buoy
and the hands that tied the knot, and the fathers
who teach their sons and daughters
these simple things I see all day
and sometimes, not at all.
Moments like this become miracle, oracle,
and my heart knows again that the whole world—
this one—is just my own face in the mirror,
and I know that I am the boat and the buoy
and the rope—and like faith, that holy smoke—
I am brilliant, and bobbing, and blue
- If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it. (Isadora Duncan)
- While with an eye made quiet by the power / of harmony, and the deep power of joy / we see into the life of things. (William Wordsworth)
- Every lesser desire melts when it comes near that flame (Mirabai Starr)
- The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us. (Wallace Stevens The Necessary Angel)
Come With Me, I Said, And No One Knew (VII)
By Pablo Neruda
Come with me, I said, and no one knew
where, or how my pain throbbed,
no carnations or barcaroles for me,
only a wound that love had opened.
I said it again: Come with me, as if I were dying,
and no one saw the moon that bled in my mouth
or the blood that rose into the silence.
O Love, now we can forget the star that has such thorns!
That is why when I heard your voice repeat
Come with me, it was as if you had let loose
the grief, the love, the fury of a cork-trapped wine
the geysers flooding from deep in its vault:
in my mouth I felt the taste of fire again,
of blood and carnations, of rock and scald.
Who Has Seen the Wind?
By Christina Rossetti
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you;
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I;
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.
The Third Body
By Robert Bly
A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do
At this moment to be older, or younger, or born
In any other nation, or any other time, or any other
They are content to be where they are, talking or not
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do
The man sees the way his fingers move;
He sees her hands close around a book she hands to
They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have promised to love that body.
Age may come; parting may come; death will come!
A man and a woman sit near each other;
As they breathe they feed someone we do not know,
Someone we know of, whom we have never seen.
The Art of Disappearing
By Naomi Shihab Nye
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say we should get together.
It’s not that you don’t love them any more.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
My Daily Affairs Are Quite Ordinary
By Layman P’ang
My daily affairs are quite ordinary;
but I’m in total harmony with them.
I don’t hold on to anything, don’t reject anything;
nowhere an obstacle of conflict.
Who cares about wealth and honor?
Even the poorest thing shines.
My miraculous power and spiritual activity:
drawing water and carrying wood.
Ten Thousand Flowers in the Spring
Ten thousand flowers in the spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
This is the best season of your life.
Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter
By Robert Bly
It is a cold and snowy night. The main street is deserted.
The only things moving are swirls of snow.
As I lift the mailbox door, I feel its cold iron.
There is a privacy I love in this snowy night.
Driving around, I will waste more time.
The Art of Disappearing
Out Beyond Ideas of Wrongdoing and Rightdoing
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
In All Ten Directions of the Universe
In all ten directions of the universe
there is only one truth.
When we see clearly, the great teachings are the same.
What can ever be lost? What can be attained?
If we attain something, it was there from the beginning of time.
If we lose something, it is hiding somewhere near us.
Look: this ball in my pocket:
can you see how priceless it is?
On the Way to Windsor
By Mark Nepo
By what road did you come?
I can tell by your eyes—
you lost something along the way.
Were you hurt or did you do the hurting?
Did you drop anything willingly?
I know. That’s a hard one.
I seem to have lost everything
that identifies me.
My heart’s become a knapsack
with torn little holes.
I knew we’d meet like this.
Oh, there are those who keep to themselves.
When the wind sounds like a loved one,
they come out and squint.
But tell me, what does it mean
to dream on this side of suffering?
That we can rest more?
That we can hear small birds
unlace the dawn?
It seems very simple now.
We can finally talk when there isn’t
much to say. It’s quite beautiful,
In the silence
By Chris Roe
The clarity of your voice,
Upon the eagle’s wings.
The chains of doubt
That imprison my soul,
Fall away beneath my feet.
In the freedom and majesty
Of the sentinels gaze,
Faith is strengthened
And hope returned
To a weary heart,
Upon the silent flight
Of eagle’s wings.
By Antonio Machado
Wanderer, the road is your
footsteps, nothing else;
wanderer, there is no path,
you lay down a path in walking.
In walking, you lay down a path
and when turning around
you see the road you’ll
never step on again.
Wanderer, path there is none,
only tracks on the ocean foam
This Much I Do Remember
By Billy Collins
It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,
and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.
All of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of you shoulders
that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way that stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.
Then all of the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all of the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.
Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day
By Mark Nepo
Having loved enough and lost enough,
I’m no longer searching
no longer trying to make sense of pain
but trying to be a soft and sturdy home
in which real things can land.
These are the irritations
that rub into a pearl.
So we can talk for a while
but then we must listen,
the way rocks listen to the sea.
And we can churn at all that goes wrong
but then we must lay all distractions
down and water every living seed.
And yes, on nights like tonight
I too feel alone. But seldom do I
face it squarely enough
to see that it’s a door
into the endless breath
that has no breather,
into the surf that human
shells call God.
What We Want
By Linda Pastan
What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names-
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don’t remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.
By Jorge Luis Borges
the vast night —
now nothing left
but the fragrance
A Further Note For Facilitators
Whereas we don’t use these poems to begin Community Building Workshops, we do use them periodically to begin other Community-informed groups — such, as Community maintenance groups, Townhall meetings, or planning sessions. Wherever it is helpful to the format to begin a group with a little process time, carefully selected poems and short stories can help a great deal.
What has guided our selection of these poems are the following general thoughts: (1) keep it short, (2) keep it contemporary, (3) keep it novel to the audience, (4) make sure it’s not violating Community principles, (5) make sure it isn’t an effort to fix or convert members of the group, (6) make sure it reflects a stage or a transition between stages of Community Building, (7) it’s better if it captures an experience than if it’s making a point – in fact, stay away from poems that make a point – and (8) if you think it’s just the thing that a group needs to know to get to Community, it’s probably not a very good poem to offer the group — instead, take a beat and reflect on why you feel a need to make a point…and then let it go.