So Many Ways

It’s National Poetry Month! I know you’ve been waiting all year for the return of the Everybody Can Love Poetry Series. It has arrived.

For those of you who started following the blog more recently, last April I posted a couple of poems each week in hopes of convincing people that there are wonderful, meaningful poems that you can understand without a degree in English. Welcome to round two.

One of the wonderful things about poems is that they are beautiful, the way a piece of music or a painting or a sunset is beautiful. I walked to my neighborhood grocery store this week right after it had rained. One of the neighboring houses was surrounded by poppies, which always display their most gorgeous side in profusion. Another house sported a few well-trimmed, carefully placed flowering bushes, and I thought, there are so many ways to be beautiful.

I think about this sometimes when I look at my cat, who is quite handsome. We think cats with all different types of coloring are cute. Black and white cats, like Tux, can have four white paws or only a couple; their faces can be all black or a little white or half white with a big freckle on the tip of their nose, and their owners think they’re adorable regardless.

But sometimes we don’t extend the same generosity to ourselves. We face ourselves in the mirror and wish this or that looked otherwise. We look at how we’ve lived our lives and how others have lived theirs and find ourselves wanting, yet if we expected a poppy to look like a rose, we’d miss its beauty.

Here’s a poem from Mary Oliver that I think speaks to how we might recognize our own beauty.

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire —
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

From: House of Light




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